Universal Flu Vaccine Company Gets $27.1 Million in Funding

JANUARY 15, 2018
Kevin Kunzmann
universal flu vaccine, oxford university, avian flu, t-cellThe company behind the investigative universal flu vaccine has received funding to expand its research through the end of 2019.

Vaccitech, an Oxford University spin-out biotech company organized in 2016, has received $27.1 million in recent financing from new investors and existing backer Oxford Sciences Innovation.

After announcing the start of a 2-year, 2000-patient clinical trial for a potential universal vaccine capable of fighting multiple forms of the flu virus in October, the young company now has enough funding to drive its influenza and cancer programs through its current trials, expand its business, develop its lab, and bring another 3 new programs into its clinic.

The phase 2b universal flu vaccine trial currently has 862 patients enrolled in the middle of its first year, according to Vaccitech. It made history as the first investigative universal-use vaccine to advance past phase 1 research.

The flu vaccine is one of 6 of the company’s products, which share the distinction of being based on non-replicating viral vectors creating a cellular immune response for either prophylaxis or treatment of a condition at different stages.

While current flu vaccines are annually produced with unstable virus surface proteins to match circulating strains of the virus, the investigative vaccine uses proteins from the virus’ core. Because the core is more consistent, the virus has potential to combat more strains — including the avian and swine flu.

Researchers hope the new vaccine, when combined with a regular seasonal flu shot, could serve as a more efficient and longer-lasting prophylaxis — possibly up to 5 years.

“We expect that the protection from the new vaccine will last longer than a year, but we will need to test that with more clinical trials in the future,” Vaccitech co-founder Sarah Gilbert said.

Vaccitech’s portfolio of investigative therapies also stand to benefit from its supplemental funding. Along with a prostate cancer therapy currently undergoing phase 1 trials, the company is beginning phase 1 studies for a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) prophylaxis at Oxford University.

There are also therapies for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B (HBV) in late preclinical development.

Vaccitech Chief Executive Officer Tom Evans emphasized how much impact the company’s products could potentially have on a global scale, noting how many people suffer from lethal strains of the flu, or continue to fight chronic HBV.

“You add Oxford into the mix, where you have unprecedented ability to do advance products through outstanding vaccine science and tremendous translational medicine capability, and Vaccitech is clearly well positioned to have an important impact on global health,” Evans said.

Though the phase 2b universal flu trials were originally announced as a 2-year ordeal, Gilbert previously said lengthier research and trial developments would incur with the addition of financial partners.

With more funding set, phase 3 trials and potential market applications are more feasible.

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