Startups, Vaccines, Venture

Google backs $27M launch round for Holy Grail R&D work on two targets: a cancer vaccine and a universal flu jab

Vaccitech isn’t just going after one of the Holy Grails in biotech R&D. It’s taking aim at two of them.

A spinout from some leading vaccine experts at Oxford’s Jenner Institute, the startup has been following up on new research to go after both a universal flu vaccine as well as a cancer vaccine angling for a place in the bright spotlight now focused on immuno-oncology. And it now has a $27 million round to advance tests in humans.

Tom Evans, CEO

Influenza, of course, can be a notoriously difficult target for manufacturers to hit each year, as any of the millions of people suffering from the latest flu epidemic can tell you. But Vaccitech believes its strategy to concentrate an attack on constant, commonly shared proteins will help it create a single, effective jab for everyone.

Coming up right behind, Vaccitech is launching a Phase II study to see if its cancer vaccine targeting the common 5T4 antigen can — in combination with a PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor — mount a more effective attack on prostate cancer cells. And if it works there, there’s a long lineup of cancers that it could be used against.

That’s a tall order. Cancer vaccines using shared antigens have been a non-starter in biotech, triggering a personalized approach that is trying to match a personalized vaccine against an individual’s cancer cell profile. And Vaccitech isn’t the only biotech going after 5T4, with rival programs coming down the pike from a bispecific 5T4-CD3 antibody from Biotecnol and startup Asana. Oxford BioMedica is also still dabbling with the MVA-5T4 cancer vaccine TroVax, which flopped in late-stage testing.

Sarah Gilbert

A MERS vaccine is coming up right behind Vaccitech’s two lead efforts in the clinic, and there are also HPV and HBV programs in advanced preclinical stages — part of an ambitious pipeline for a startup like this.

Jenner chief Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert led much of the research that is now backing the biotech.

Google venture arm GV co-led the round with Sequoia China and Oxford Sciences Innovation — which seeded the venture — with help from Neptune Ventures.


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