Advancing universal vaccines for flu, coronavirus, and other viral infections
Osivax is developing universal vaccines for influenza, coronaviruses, and other infectious diseases such as malaria and human papillomavirus (HPV). Based on the company’s oligoDOM platform, the vaccines stimulate the immune system to produce CD-8 T cells that target the nucleoprotein (NP) produced by infected cells. The lead candidate vaccine for flu, coded OVX836, is an intramuscular form in Phase 2a development; an intranasal form is near the end of a Phase 1 trial. Preclinical studies have started on a coronavirus vaccine, which would include COVID-19. Partnerships are ongoing with an HPV prophylactic/therapeutic and a malaria vaccine in Phase 1 trials.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Reaching an ideal goal that has long eluded and thus engendered skepticism among scientists, the universal flu vaccine — that is the chosen mission of Osivax. But it is no longer the only one. The company has now doubled down on its brave new technology for marshaling CD-8 T cells against the nucleoprotein in viruses, a potentially universal target, by adding COVID-19 and all other coronavirus strains to its development portfolio.
In the beginning, says Alexandre Le Vert, executive chairman and cofounder, Osivax began with a large set of possibilities in the infectious disease area, which had motivated its spinoff from Imaxio, a European commercial player in vaccines. “We developed many different programs, but the flu program was the most attractive, based on the preclinical results, and that created traction for the universal flu vaccine program and, lately, for a coronavirus vaccine program that uses a similar approach,” he says. “Both vaccines share the same mechanism of action, scientific hypothesis, targets, and technology platform. Our coronavirus program, which is still very early stage, is gaining a lot from the know-how we obtained with the flu program.”
Le Vert was a vaccine researcher at Harvard and Institut Pasteur, then a marketer at BMS and a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group before his six years as CEO of Imaxio, ending in 2017. Although a few other companies are chasing the universal-vaccine goal, he has high confidence in his company’s platform and the programs it has produced.
“We are bringing a vaccine that is best-inclass for using CD-8 T cells against a target. The nucleoprotein is an internal protein of the virus. It is highly conserved among strains of flu and strains of coronavirus. It is one of the most abundant proteins that is produced in an infected cell and therefore probably one of the most abundant viral proteins presented on the MHC [major histocompatibility complex] of infected cells, which is the trigger for a cytotoxic CD-8 T cell immune response.”
An Osivax vaccine consists of nanoparticles made of a recombinant version of NP. The nanoparticles present multiple copies of NP to the immune system. “We’ve also added a few elements that enhance targeting of the nanoparticles to the immune cells. At the moment the virus infects a cell, the cell starts producing nucleoprotein, exposing on its surface some parts of the nucleoprotein, and the activated CD-8 T cells will rapidly kill the infected cells and prevent the virus from spreading.”
For the coronavirus vaccine, the company’s goal is not achieving warp speed, but reaching the right milestones to establish the product as a key weapon in the arsenal against the viruses. “We have a very differentiated product, and this is a business where that’s driven by science. So, we also still have some work to do there,” says Le Vert. He echoes other leaders in the field in seeing new vitality and, all-importantly, new interest in funding anti-infectious agents in the wake of COVID-19. If that trend holds, Osivax may be one company to share the glory of a reawakened space.
Employees: 20 Headquarters: Lyon, France
Total $35M raised; $11M from private investors; $24M from public funding.
Research Partnership Funding
Inserm/APHP/BPI France — coronavirus vaccine — $18M
European Innovation Council — influenza and coronavirus vaccines — $3M
NIH — influenza vaccine — undisclosed funding
DKFZ, Heidelberg — HPV viro-induced cancer
Latest Updates July 2020: EUR 32M funding for universal coronavirus and influenza vaccines April 2020: OVX836 Phase 2a trial enrollment completed January 2020: First volunteers enrolled in Phase 2a OVX836 trial December 2019: agreement with U.S. NIH to test OVX836