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Vaccine Spin-Off Raises $168 Million in New Funds



18 Mar. 2021. A developer of vaccines, including a leading Covid-19 vaccine, and cancer immunotherapies, is raising $168 million in its second venture round. Vaccitech Ltd. in Oxford, U.K. is spun-off from the Jenner Institute at University of Oxford that designed the vaccine protecting against Covid-19 disease, later licensed by drug maker AstraZeneca.

Vaccitech develops vaccines against infectious diseases and cancer immunotherapies licensed from Jenner Institute’s research on T-cells and antibodies in the immune system that respond to infectious pathogens and cancer cells. The five year-old company creates medications with two technologies based on benign synthetic viruses. One of those synthetic viruses, called ChAdOx1, is derived from an adenovirus in chimpanzees, similar to a virus in humans considered benign, or responsible at most for symptoms like the common cold.

For infectious diseases, the adenovirus is genetically engineered to keep from replicating in humans, with genetic material added to make proteins similar to the pathogen target. In the case of Vaccitech’s Covid-19 vaccine, the target is the characteristic spike glycoprotein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 viruses. That spike protein binds to receptors in human cells, to gain entry and cause Covid-19 infections.

As reported by Science & Enterprise in April 2020, AstraZeneca licensed Vaccitech’s Covid-19 vaccine for clinical and commercial development. Recent reports of blood clots in a few recipients of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine led to a number of European countries suspending use of the vaccine, while the European Medicines Agency reviews its safety.

Infectious disease vaccines and immunotherapies in clinical trials

The second Vaccitech technology, known as modified vaccinia Ankara or MVA, delivers DNA or viruses engineered to be benign, but still producing virus-like particles in the recipient. The virus-like particles are sufficiently similar to the real viruses to invoke an immune response in both antibodies and T-cells, but not cause disease. MVA is derived from the smallpox vaccine and, according to Vaccitech, is cultured in cultured in avian cells to remove human replication potential, while retaining its ability to produce an immune response.

In addition to a Covid-19 vaccine, Vaccitech has a vaccine against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS virus in an early-stage clinical trial and a Zoster herpes/shingles vaccine in preclinical testing. The company is also developing therapeutics for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus, or HPV, both in early- or mid-stage trials. And Vaccitech has two cancer immunotherapies in development, including one for prostate cancer in a mid-stage trial.

The company’s second venture round is raising $168 million, with $43 million of that amount in convertible notes, earlier loans transferred to equity shares. Leading the financing is M&G Investment Management in London, with participation from new investors Tencent, Gilead Sciences, Monaco Constitutional Reserve Fund, and Future Planet Capital. Also taking part is Vaccitech’s original investor and incubator Oxford Sciences Innovation, the university’s scientific entrepreneurship agency. According to Crunchbase, Vaccitech raised $47.6 million in earlier venture funds.

“We expect this financing to enable us to reach key value inflection points for our lead programs,” says Vaccitech’s CEO Bill Enright in a company statement. The company says its current clinical trials for hepatitis B, HPV, and prostate cancer immunotherapy will be the first recipients of the new funds.

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