Primed for attack: Vaccine tech maker gets $11M shot to battle infectious disease
Traditional antibody-based vaccines, as a basic principle, prevent infection. UK-based Emergex’s technology doesn’t care if you do contract the infection — it is engineered to ensure you don’t fall sick.
Founded in 2016 by University College London (UCL) professor emeritus of molecular medicine and serial entrepreneur Tom Rademacher, the company Emergex on Thursday secured $11 million in Series A funding, led by Vickers Venture Partners.
Emergex is focused on virulent diseases such as dengue, Zika, Ebola and even pandemic flu and its T-cell vaccine technology is designed to work by tricking the immune system into thinking it’s already had the infection and priming itself for an assault against the pathogen.
“Now, if you become exposed to Ebola, you already have got the immune system to limit the infection,” Rademacher explained in an interview with Endpoints News. “We don’t want to block natural immunity, we want to allow infection but prevent people from getting sick — that’s what these things do.”
With existing antibody-based vaccines, if you get a jab, you will not catch the flu. If you continue to get flu jabs every year, you never get the flu as a child, eventually, you will never acquire natural immunity to the flu, he said. “If you block that type of natural immunity by giving antibody-based vaccines, you cause very, very serious problems in the long run.”
Another fundamental issue with antibody-based vaccines involves RNA viruses, the group that includes dengue and Ebola.
“That’s where the Sanofi people came up against problems there is that these viruses have learned to use the antibody as part of their pathogenic mechanism,” Rademacher said. “Its basically killed off…the whole way people construct vaccines therefore against these (viruses). If you have an antibody component, you’ve got problems.”
The company has taken an experimental approach to its vaccines. Using human dengue infected cells, or Zika infected cells — depending on the focus — the company works out the viral signature on the infected cells. After isolating which T cells are there, it uses a small patch (instead of the traditional jab) to relay this information via peptides and amino acids to get the immune system to recognize these targets.
Emergex’s vaccine technology has no biological components (like live attenuated pathogens) and its patch delivery mechanism makes it cheaper to manufacture, transport and handle at room temperature.
The company’s lead experimental product is for dengue — three studies to test the product in different regions will be kicked off this year, Rademacher said, estimating that he expects at least two readouts in 2020.