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By Prof Sarah Gilbert, Jenner Investigator

Vaccitech founders Prof Sarah Gilbert and Prof Adrian Hill

Oxford spin out company Vaccitech was launched in May 2016 with a £10m investment from Oxford Sciences Innovation to take a number of vaccines through clinical trials. The company’s most advanced programme is a universal vaccine to improve the protection provided by the seasonal flu vaccination for the over-65s, led by Vaccitech founders Professors Sarah Gilbert and Adrian Hill from the Jenner Institute. Vaccitech is also developing a clinical stage therapeutic vaccine for prostate cancer, and a number of additional preclinical programmes. 

Currently, no single vaccine can give immunity against even a majority of circulating flu virus strains. Instead, flu vaccines are manufactured in advance of each flu season using complex forecasting, based on data from the preceding year. However, predicting flu strains is difficult. For instance, records from the US Centre for Disease Control show that in 2013/14 the rate of protection dipped as low as 3.4 per cent. Each year, seasonal outbreaks of flu cause three to five million cases of severe disease and approximately 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide. Young children and the elderly are particularly at risk.

Vaccitech will also be developing a therapeutic cancer vaccine, initially targeting prostate cancer, a programme led at the Jenner Institute by Dr Irina Redchenko. New “checkpoint inhibitor” cancer therapies are proving highly effective at taking the physiological ‘brakes’ off the immune system’s ability to identify and fight tumour cells. It is now believed that combining these therapies with a vaccine to focus the immune response on key cancer antigens could increase the success of cancer immunotherapies, and Vaccitech will assess this possibility. Vaccitech’s vaccine stimulates the body to mount an immune attack against a unique tumour-specific protein found on the most common types of solid cancer including prostate, renal, colorectal and lung cancers. A Phase I/II study to assess safety and efficacy of this vaccine in men with low or intermediate risk prostate cancer is underway and recruiting subjects in Oxford and other centres.

Additional pre-clinical programmes underway at Vaccitech include a vaccine candidate for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), an emerging virus for which the WHO reports a 36% mortality rate.