Oxford spinout company Vaccitech has been launched with £10m seed investment to develop a universal flu vaccine already showing promise in clinical trials. The company is also developing and testing other vaccines which trigger the immune response needed to prevent or treat a range of serious diseases.
Vaccitech has raised £10m from investment company Oxford Sciences Innovation to take a number of vaccines through clinical trials.
The company's most advanced programme is a universal vaccine to improve the protection provided by the seasonal flu vaccination for the over-65s. Vaccitech is also developing a clinical stage therapeutic vaccine for prostate cancer, and a number of additional preclinical programs.
Currently, no single vaccine can give immunity against even a majority of circulating flu virus strains. Instead, flu vaccines are manufactured in advance of each flu season using complex forecasting, based on data from the preceding year. However, predicting flu strains is difficult. For instance, records from the US Centre for Disease Control show that in 2013/14 the rate of protection dipped as low as 3.4%.
Each year seasonal outbreaks of flu cause three to five million cases of severe disease and approximately 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide. Young children and the elderly are particularly at risk.
The Jenner Institute team is led by Professors Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert. Professor Gilbert said: 'Clinical trials of the universal vaccine here in Oxford have shown great promise. The vaccine has proved safe and shown good clinical responses, including enhanced protection against the flu detectable in older adults even one year after vaccination. It has performed well when given with the standard flu vaccine.
'We are planning a Phase IIb, 1,500-patient trial scheduled to begin later in 2016, the next step towards regulatory approval.
'To create a vaccine which works against every flu virus, we've targeted two proteins inside the virus which do not change, even as the virus mutates the proteins on its surface. This also means the vaccine should work against all human, avian and swine influenza strains.'
Vaccitech will also be developing a therapeutic cancer vaccine, initially targeting prostate cancer.
Professor Hill said: 'New "checkpoint inhibitor" cancer therapies are proving highly effective at taking the physiological "brakes" off the immune system's ability to identify and fight tumour cells. It is now widely acknowledged that combining current therapies with a vaccine element to focus the immune response on key cancer antigens will increase the success of cancer immunotherapies.
'Vaccitech's vaccine stimulates the body to mount an immune attack against a unique tumour-specific protein found on the most common types of solid cancer including prostate, renal, colorectal and lung cancers.'
A Phase I/II study to assess safety and efficacy of this vaccine in men with low or intermediate risk prostate cancer is under way and recruiting subjects in Oxford and other centres.
The University's technology commercialisation company Isis Innovation supported the Jenner Institute team by filing patents, building the business plan and marketing the opportunity.
Isis Innovation Head of Technology Transfer (Life Sciences) and interim Chairman of Vaccitech, Dr Adam Stoten, said: 'The need for new vaccines to manage infectious disease, cancer and other conditions is enormous, and Oxford's Jenner Institute is at the forefront of research in this area. Vaccines are still the most cost-effective medical intervention we have, and Vaccitech's technology has the potential to save thousands of lives each year.'
Additional pre-clinical programmes under way at Vaccitech include a vaccine for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), an emerging virus for which the WHO reports a 36% mortality rate.