A pioneer in a new era of vaccines
Vaccibody puts new developments in cell biology and biotechnology to work
John Erik Stacy, 6 Dec 2010
Vaccines have been so effective that many of us have all but forgotten the diseases that once ravaged our country. Ole Henrik Brekke, Vaccibody CEO, knows that vaccines can do even more. Brekke and the inventors from the University of Oslo and Oslo university Hospital have built their company around the idea that vaccines can be “jump-started” to work where they have not worked before. Vaccines are best known for disease prevention, but they are also used after a disease has been contracted. Rabies, for example, is treated using a vaccine, an approach developed by Louis Pasteur almost 200 years ago. Flash forward to our millennium and we see a cancer vaccine, Provenge, developed by Seattle based Dendreon and approved by the FDA in April of this year. Vaccines that knock back cancer could hardly have been conceived before this age of understanding in cell-biology, genetics and biotechnology. But now we have the tools, and researcher-entrepreneurs like Brekke are putting them to work.
Dr. Brekke answered these questions on his company and the technology:
Which diseases do you think are the most likely targets of Vaccibody technology? In principle any kind of disease, be it viral or bacterial infections or cancers, can be targets for the Vaccibody technology. From a commercial point of view we now focus on in-house development of a therapeutic cancer vaccine. However, since the technology is applicable to any disease we will partner with vaccine and pharma industry to license the platform for infectious diseases. We also believe that the technology has a future within veterinary and aquaculture. And, indeed, we’re currently discussing with several veterinary vaccine companies.
So, in addition to cancer, Vaccibody will also target viral infections (HIV, herpes, VZV, etc.)? Vaccibodies are especially good for virally induced diseases since vaccibodies gain the most crucial immune response to fight such diseases, namely the cellular-, or T-cell response. This response is also the most vital response for curing cancer, and has been a difficult task for the vaccine industry to achieve. Until now.
What about treating people infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria? After the patient has acquired such disease, the treatment will demand a quick action of therapy. A vaccine strategy depend on the body’s ability to raise an immune response and this will take approximately 14 days. But, of course if one could vaccinate people with specific antigens from antibiotic resistant bacteria before they acquire the disease one could prevent such infection in the first place. Vaccibody could definitely be used as such a vaccine.
What are the differences and similarities between the technology developed by Vaccibody and that employed by Dendreon in its cancer vaccine? It’s a very good example to describe the Vaccibody technology! Provenge, the prostate cancer vaccine from Dendreon, is based on harvesting specialized cells from the cancer patient, the dendritic cells. These cells are the most professional cells to stimulate the immune system, given that they have been triggered by an antigen, or vaccine. Dendreon do exactly this by pulsing the patients’ dendritic cells with the prostate cancer antigen. Then the cells are expanded and given back to the patient. It’s a costly and time-consuming process. The treatment costs $90,000! What vaccibodies does is in fact to find the same dendritic cells inside the patient’s body. This means that one can give any patient with a specific cancer the Vaccibody vaccine and achieve the response seen with the Dendreon approach. Our vaccine is not personalised, its general, and can be manufactured as a regular vaccine. This means that the cost of a vaccibody vaccine can be significantly lower than Provenge.
When was Vaccibody founded, and how many people work in the company? Vaccibody was founded in 2007. We’re a lean organization, and are currently 4 people with RD activity at the Oslo University Hospital. But we have many collaborators that have verified our technology. This is a very cost effective way to run a business in its early stage. We’re planning for company expansion in line with our clinical development plans.
Who are the main investors? Bio-Medical Innovation, Sarsia Seed and the inventors have invested in the company.
Does Vaccibody receive support from research grants? We are generously supported both from the Norwegian Research Council and Innovation Norway.
You recently presented Vaccibody in Vienna. Please tell a bit about that meeting. It was a meeting on DNA vaccines. The vaccibody approach is highly suitable as a DNA vaccine. The biggest problem with DNA vaccines today is to achieve sufficient high immune response in man. Here, Vacccibody can actually contribute with its high potency. This was definitely acknowledged at the conference, by great interest from the audience after my presentation. The tight time frame of my 20 minutes presentation was effectively broken by further 30 minutes of questions afterwards!
Will you do a “road-show” in the USA? We are now in the process of funding the company to start clinical development of our cancer vaccine and will primarily focus on European investors this time. We do have a good collaboration with CDC, in Atlanta, and will definitely seek industrial partners in the US, but for the time being it is full focus on raising capital. A US road-show would be earliest fall 2011.
This article was originally published in the Dec. 3, 2010 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.