Race toward a COVID-19 cure
Vaccibody attracts investor attention; shares soar
In 2017, The Norwegian American published a story about increasing investor support of Oslo-based biotech startup Vaccibody AS, a company founded in 2007 that develops immunotherapies for cancer and infectious diseases.
At that time, Vaccibody’s novel immunotherapy for the viruses that cause cervical cancer were getting attention. Today, with the advent of the global coronavirus pandemic, the company is garnering new attention—and investment.
According to NTB and Dagens Næringsliv, the fight for a coronavirus vaccine has sent shares of biotechnology companies skyhigh, as other sectors suffer under the economic strain. July 15 data from the Oslo Stock Exchange, the overall value of Norwegian biotech and health stocks has nearly doubled to NOK 28 billion.
Vaccibody is among the companies that have seen the highest increase in value along with Ultimovacs, Bergenbio, and Arcticzymes. Arcticzymes alone has seen a 742% increase in value since New Year’s Day, NTB wrote.
Vaccibody was established at the University of Oslo by immunologist Bjarne Bogen along with Inger Sandlie, both of who remain atop the company’s scientific advisory board. Agnete B. Fredriksen, another co-founder, is chief scientific officer. Michael Engsig has served as CEO since September 2019.
Bogen and his colleagues developed a novel DNA vaccine technology known as a vaccibody, giving the company its name. Vaccibodies effectively teach cells to produce vaccine proteins that target selected “antigen presenting cells,” the immune system’s own delivery mechanism that generates the right immune response. Part of what makes vaccibody technology so important is its ability to be individualized to the particular needs of a patient. The technology is described on Vaccibody’s website at www.vaccibody.com/technology.
While Vaccibody AS carries out its own internal research and development to explore the full potential of vaccibody technology, Bogen serves as professor of medicine at Rikshospitalet at Oslo University Hospital. Oslo University Hospital is Scandinavia’s largest hospital and, according to its website, carries out more than half of all biomedical research in Norway.
The importance of the technology has, of course, not gone unnoticed. On June 24, the University of Oslo awarded Bogen its Innovation Prize, citing his development of vaccibody technology as “the first effective individually adapted cancer vaccine in the world.” In accepting the prize, Bogen noted that the vaccibody technology might also be useful in the ongoing pandemic, as a study at Oslo Univeristy Hospital is researching possible applications in influenza vaccines. “The vaccine principle can also perhaps be used to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, and early trials are underway,” he said.
Based in western Oslo’s Research Park, Vaccibody enjoys vast resources of the city’s rich research environment, with a significant share of biotech investment. The largest shareholder is the investor Jan Haudemann-Andersen, who, according to NTB, has earned NOK 500 million so far this year in biotech investment. Among the other investors are Sarsia Seed and Inven2, a technology transfer firm owned by the University of Oslo and Oslo University Hospital.
On July 20, Vaccibody announced that the first patient has been dosed in Phase II clinical trials of a combined immuotherapy for cervical cancer. The company started the first clinical trial of their personalized cancer vaccine in early 2018. Later that year, the startup entered a clinical collaboration with the American biopharmaceutical company Nektar Therapeutics. According to a press release, the aim was to explore positive effects from the combination of Vaccibody’s personalized cancer vaccine and Nektar’s cancer drug. Pre-clinical results of the combination were very positive. Nektar was among the most talked about companies within immune therapy at the time and landed the largest deal of its kind with Bristol Meyers Squibb.
As of the first quarter of 2020, Vaccibody’s assets totaled more than NOK 266 million.
This article originally appeared in the July 31, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.