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EC, France Fund Universal Covid-19, Flu Vaccines

SARS-Cov-2 viruses

Scanning electron microscope image showing SARS-CoV-2 viruses, in yellow. (NIAID, NIH)

8 July 2020. A biotechnology company is receiving European Commission and French government funds to develop vaccines that protect against all strains of Covid-19 and flu viruses. Osivax in Lyon, France is expected to receive €32.6 million ($US 37 million) to advance its work on its experimental universal flu vaccine, and apply the technology to a similar vaccine preventing infections from the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19.

Osivax designs vaccines that protect against infectious diseases, with its lead product code-named OVX836, a vaccine protecting against all known influenza strains, now in clinical trials. The company’s technology uses virus-like particles, fragments of viruses assembled into pieces resembling viruses to invoke a response from the immune system, but without infecting cells. Added to these particles are peptide supplements that encourage uptake by dendritic, or antigen-presenting cells in the immune system.

The result, says Osivax, is vaccines that generate a strong response from CD8 T-cells, considered the workhorse T-cells in the immune system. Osivax vaccines also target a component in viruses called the nucleoprotein, responsible for viral transcription and replication but also much less likely to mutate. A study published in the journal npj Vaccines in January 2019 shows OVX836 protects lab mice against three sub-types of influenza A.

European Innovation Council, the science-commercialization agency of the European Commission, is providing Osivax with an accelerator grant of €2.5 million and €15 million in equity financing to complete its mid-stage clinical trial of OVX836, and begin discovery of a universal coronavirus vaccine. That trial, conducted in Belgium, is enrolling 300 healthy volunteers testing OVX836 for safety and immune response. The equity investment likewise funds a large-scale study of OVX836, enrolling some 3,500 participants, and further development of a universal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

In addition, Osivax is receiving €15.1 million from Bpifrance, a public agency that provides equity and grant financing for French start-ups, as well as entrepreneurial training and export financing. In this case, the funds, from a Bpifrance research and development grant program, support lab analysis of human samples, and early- and mid-stage clinical trials of a universal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

“Similar to influenza, which leads to regular global outbreaks, Covid-19 has the potential to mutate.,” says Alexandre Le Verte, CEO and co-founder of Osivax, in a company statement. “Our commitment to cutting time and costs associated with vaccine production while providing comprehensive protection has never been more critical than in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic which continues to profoundly threaten global health.”

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