After a devastating campaign in Australia, this season it’s expected that flu strain H3N2 will hit the UK hard. Fortunately, a bright young spinout based in Oxford is working on a solution.
Vaccitech, a spinout from Oxford, is developing a ‘universal’ vaccine. It’s aimed at Type A flu strains: those which infect several kinds of animal, cause pandemics, and are generally considered the most deadly. CEO Tom Evans believes the firm’s technology can “boost the number of people protected against Type A strains by as much as 50 per cent.” And this week, the firm has received an injection of £20m – from backers including GV (Google Ventures), Oxford Sciences Innovation, and Sequoia Capital.
Vaccitech’s product is currently in Phase 2 of trials, which involve testing on humans to establish efficacy and determine the optimal dose. In October, tests began on volunteers aged 65+, in partnership with the NHS. The vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system to produce T-cells capable of destroying the flu virus, and (uniquely) is not in danger of becoming obsolete as flu strains mutate: it targets the middle of the virus cells, rather than the changeable proteins attached to their outside.
Adrian Hill, board director of Vaccitech, is optimistic: “Nobody has taken [this kind of vaccine] to the stage that we’ve taken this to.”
The £20m follows £10 million raised by the firm in May 2016, bringing Vaccitech’s total raised to £30m. It comes in exchange for a 37% stake in the company, and takes the startup’s pre-money valuation to £26m – an £18.5m increase in value in under two years.
While a universal flu vaccine is its lead product, the company has a number of other developments in the offing which include research into prostate cancer, MERs, and shingles to name but a few.