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UK biotech Vaccitech raises £20m for universal flu shot

Aims to develop a vaccine targeting proteins in the core of the virus

vaccine

In a week where Australian and Japanese flu strains are raising anxiety in the UK, one of the country’s biotech companies has just raised funding to progress a universal flu vaccine.

University of Oxford spin-out Vaccitech has attracted £20m ($27m) in first-round financing from investors - including the GV venture capital arm of Google parent Alphabet - towards its programme.

The aim is to develop a vaccine that - unlike current seasonal vaccines based on proteins on the surface of the virus which change depending on the strain of flu - targets proteins in the core which stay relatively constant. The intention is also to generate a white cell response to the infection in addition to the antibody response achieved with seasonal vaccines.

Seasonal vaccines often fail to protect from flu infection due to the mismatch of the forecasted and prevailing virus strains, but also because of possible low efficacy even if there is a match, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that the average level of protection in recent years has been around 40% and in some years has been as low as 3%.

Recognising that, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for at least one universal flu vaccine to be available by 2020. It’s also thought that universal vaccines could help reduce the threat of a new ‘pandemic’ strain of flu - for example crossing over from other species like pigs or birds - that could have a devastating impact on human populations.

Vaccitech has started recruiting volunteers for a phase IIb trial of its candidate that will continue through the 2018/2019 flu season. The trial is testing the candidate or a placebo injection as an addition to standard flu vaccines in over-65s and - if all goes according to plan - could set it on course for market entry in 2024 or 2025.

Vaccitech isn’t the only biotech in pursuit of a universal flu vaccine. Israeli firm BiondVax has a two-dose candidate called M-001 in clinical development and said in December that it intends to start a phase III trial in the third quarter of this year.

The upcoming study will involve around 7,700 patients be conducted in Europe and will involve participants over the age of 50 as they are viewed as the primary target population for a standalone flu vaccine, according to analysts at Edison, which notes that the primary endpoint in the study will be reduction in the influenza-like illness (ILI) rate.

They say in a research note that the EMA has confirmed that a single pivotal efficacy trial that proves efficacy against laboratory-proven ILI would be sufficient for an approval in the EU.

M-001 is a peptide-based vaccine that will include epitopes from HA, as well as matrix protein and nucleoprotein from the core of the virus.

As of today around 500 people have been hospitalised by Aussie flu in the UK, causing 85 deaths since October 5 including an 18-year-old girl in Scotland, with cases of the less virulent Japanese (Yamagata) flu strain now being reported in some parts of the country.

Article by
Phil Taylor

16th January 2018

From: Research

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