Oxford’s vaccine legacy continues to grow

Oxford University has long been at the forefront of novel vaccine technologies, underscored in 2005 with the creation of the Jenner Institute, bearing the name of Edward Jenner – the Gloucestershire physician and “father of vaccinology”.  The Jenner Institute combined the vaccine research and development activities of Oxford University and The Pirbright Institute (for Animal Health), and uniquely it focuses both on diseases of humans and livestock.  A major theme is translational research involving the rapid early-stage development and assessment of new vaccines in clinical trials.

This translational focus has resulted in a close collaborative relationship between Jenner investigators and OUI, working together to assess and protect the intellectual property associated with new vaccine technologies, and to find either existing companies to partner in their future development and commercialisation, or increasingly working with external investors to spin out new vaccine-focused companies.

The introduction of vaccines in the last 100 years has transformed how we tackle many of the world’s most serious and life-threatening diseases.  They have saved countless millions of lives while generating profound economic impact.  A recent economic analysis of 10 vaccines used in low/middle-income countries estimated that an investment of $34 billion to provide the immunisations resulted in savings of $586 billion in reducing the costs of illness and $1.53 trillion including broader economic benefits. (1).
While many infectious diseases are now prevented by safe and effective vaccines, a significant number, such as malaria, tuberculosis and Middle Eastern Respiratory Distress Syndrome (MERS), still present major healthcare challenges.

Leading the charge in terms of recent vaccine spinouts is Vaccitech (www.vaccitech.co.uk), founded by Jenner investigators Profs Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert, and led by vaccine industry veteran Dr Tom Evans. 

 Vaccitech’s mission is to develop one of vaccinology’s holy grails; a universal influenza vaccine.  A universal ‘flu vaccine elicits a protective immune response to the internal antigens which remain conserved across different strains of the virus.  This would have the major benefit of removing the need to guess the prevalent strain ahead of each winter ‘flu season, and then having to manufacture that year’s vaccine based on this prediction – which is not always right.

Vaccitech is in the midst of a large Phase II clinical trial which is testing its universal ‘flu vaccine in conjunction with the normal seasonal vaccine in people over 65 years old.  Results are expected in the next 18 months and if positive could set the scene for a major change in how we protect against influenza.

Vaccitech is also using its technology platform of replication-deficient viral vectors to support a second clinical phase candidate; this time a vaccine against antigens associated with prostate cancer, which would be used to treat, rather than prevent, the condition.  Earlier stage programmes are addressing Hepatitis B and Human Papilloma Virus and the emerging pathogen MERS.
Established in 2016 with £10m investment, Vaccitech has proceeded to raise a further £20m from investors including Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), GV and Sequoia China.


Taking a different approach is another recent Jenner vaccine spinout – SpyBiotech (www.spybiotech.com).  The company was established in 2017 with £4m seed funding, also from OSI and GV, and was founded by a multidisciplinary team including CEO Sumi Biswas, an Associate Professor in the Jenner Institute, her Jenner colleagues Prof Simon Draper and Dr Jing Jin, and Mark Howarth, a Professor in the University’s Biochemistry department.

SpyBiotech is developing vaccines using virus-like particles (VLPs), which look like a virus on the outside but do not contain any viral genetic material, so they cannot cause disease.  Uniquely, SpyBiotech has licensed IP from OUI for ‘protein superglue’, which enables the company to rapidly develop new vaccine candidates by decorating the outer coat of the VLP with disease specific antigens, a process which has historically been slow, challenging and sometimes impossible.  SpyBiotech is not yet in clinical trials with its vaccine candidates but its platform technology is applicable to a wide range of infectious diseases (viral, bacterial, parasitic) and potentially to cancer.

Vaccitech and SpyBiotech are just two examples of the pipeline of new vaccines and related technologies emerging from Oxford’s research, and OUI would be keen to explore partnering opportunities for current licensing opportunities including Dengue Fever, Malaria and Meningitis vaccines, novel adjuvants and innovative vector-related technologies.

Ref: (1) Ozawa S, et al.  (2016) Return on investment from childhood immunization in low- and middle-income countries, 2011-20.  Health Aff (Millwood) 35:199–207




Written by Adam Stoten,
Chief Operating Officer,
Oxford University Innovation


Posted on Thursday, 05 July 2018