Biochemistry Department spinout uses biochemical superglue to develop next generation vaccines
SpyBiotech, an Oxford University spinout using "biochemical superglue" which can facilitate the rapid development of robust and novel vaccines, has raised £4m at launch in seed financing to develop the technology.
The company gets its name from the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes (Spy), the same organism behind a number of infections including strep throat and impetigo. The team behind SpyBiotech divided a Spy protein into a peptide, SpyTag, and a protein partner, SpyCatcher. Once combined, the two react irreversibly to form a covalent bond.
SpyBiotech believes that using the Spy bond will be the missing link to the development and production of highly effective vaccines. The company will initially focus on virus-like particles (VLPs), a leading technology to induce immune responses by vaccination. Discovered in 1963, VLPs have become a cornerstone of a number of vaccines. Resembling viruses but without pathogenic material, VLPs can instead be coated with antigens from the target disease. However, the two most common ways in which a VLP can be paired with antigens are genetic fusion and chemical conjugation. These methods are imprecise and often cause vaccine misassembly, thereby leading to failure of the vaccine.
In contrast, SpyBiotech's SpyVLP will be easily and efficiently combined with a number of antigens to produce stable vaccines that induce robust antibody responses. The spinout plans to target infectious diseases including major viral infections at first, with a view to developing SpyVLP into a universal platform that can be adapted to target a wide variety of diseases. In particular, owing to the versatile and easy-to-use nature of SpyVLP, the technology could underpin efforts to rapidly combat future outbreaks and pandemics.
SpyBiotech intends on getting its first candidate vaccines ready for Phase I trials during the company's first 30 months. Alongside the development work, SpyBiotech's founders will be receiving support from GV, and are aiming to start a further round of funding in the near future to catalyse the development of SpyVLP and expand into other disease areas. A leadership team, including the company's CEO, will be announced in the coming months.
Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI), the patient capital investor for Oxford University, led the investment, with GV (formerly Google Ventures), the venture capital provider for Alphabet, joining in participation. An initial £4m has been made available to the company.
The research underpinning SpyBiotech was developed in conjunction between researchers at Oxford University's Department of Biochemistry and Jenner Institute, with four academics working with SpyBiotech at launch. They are Mark Howarth, Associate Professor of Protein Nanotechnology from the Department of Biochemistry; and Associate Professor Sumi Biswas, Associate Professor Simon Draper and Dr Jing Jin from the Jenner Institute. Between them, the team have taken 12 products to Phase I and II clinical trials, have filed nine patents on vaccines and other technologies, and have extensive experience in biotech and industrial collaborations and partnerships. The commercialisation of SpyBiotech's technology and company formation was supported by Oxford University Innovation, the research commercialisation company of Oxford University.