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Universal flu vaccine receives Google’s financial backing

Published on 15/01/18 at 09:22am

Vaccitech, a spin-out company from the University of Oxford, recently launched a Series A financing round and had some fairly illustrious backers.

Namely, it received funding from GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet, Google’s parent company and other players to the total of £20 million invested.

Vaccitech is developing a universal flu vaccine that works in a very different way to current flu vaccines. Instead of targeting the prevalent strains that develop and appear uniquely each year, the new vaccine aims to hit at the heart of the flu virus.

The candidate will potentially be able to do this by acting against the proteins found at the centre of the virus rather than those proteins that protrude from the surface, similar in shape to pins.

The reason this could prove effective is because the pins are the proteins that shift continually, while the core proteins mean stable – meaning that they could be targeted each year regardless of how the virus mutates.

In another differentiation from current vaccines, the potential universal candidate stimulates T-cells to fight the virus, as opposed to the way in which current vaccines encourage the body to produce more antibodies.

Vaccitech already began recruiting for volunteers to participate in its Phase 2b trial and will continue the process for the 2018/2019 flu season. The trial will see current standard vaccination efficacy measured alongside either an additional placebo treatment or the candidate.

One notable absence from investors has been pharma – with Sequoia China and Oxford Sciences being the other investors. This is expected to change if the Phase 2 trial shows signs of success, as pharma players in this, such as Sanofi or GSK, would likely be keen to snap up the vaccine to add to their immunology portfolio.

The company has noted that strong trial results, and the backing garnered from this, could expect them to see the candidate reach the market by 2024 or 2025.

“If we get positive data that shows we can affect rates of hospitalization and illness with influenza then there is no question in my mind that a partner would take this on,” Vaccitech Chief Executive, Tom Evans, is quoted as telling Reuters. “This could be a game-changer in a very competitive market.”

The vaccine is sure to spark significant interest if this year’s flu virus hits as hard as expected. Already in the UK deaths are mounting from the virus, linked to strains that caused problems in Australia and Japan now emerging alongside colder weather.

Ben Hargreaves

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