Abingdon’s Emergex secures £500K to develop T cell vaccine for severe mosquito infection

Chikungunya

Emergex Vaccines, a company tackling major global infectious disease threats through the development of 100 per cent synthetic Priming T cell Adaptive Vaccines, has been awarded a £490,525 grant by the government’s Department of Health and Social Care (‘DHSC’) to advance a synthetic T cell vaccine candidate for Chikungunya virus.

The grant will cover the cost of generating a Chikungunya vaccine prototype. The project covers the identification of novel Chikungunya peptide epitopes (collectively constituting the “ligandome”), synthesis of a vaccine candidate and testing in in vitro efficacy models.

Chikungunya is a potentially severe mosquito-borne infection, characterised by fever and joint pain, with a high public health burden of over one billion a year in reported cases in widespread endemic regions (the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa). It poses a threat to temperate regions and has recently increased in severity of outbreaks. Already endemic to five continents, there is a looming risk that it will be transported to new regions. Currently there is no vaccine to prevent, or therapy to treat, Chikungunya patients.

The funding, administered through UK Aid (Official Development Assistance) funding, was awarded following a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the DHSC’s UK Vaccine Network (UKVN), delivered through Innovate UK.

The SBRI awarded grants totalling £10 million to 22 research projects that address vaccine development for the UKVN’s 12 priority pathogens with epidemic potential in low- and middle- income countries (LMICs), including Ebola, Zika, Lassa Fever, Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCMF), among others. The UKVN was established in response to the 2015 West Africa Ebola outbreak which highlighted the significant potential threat posed by Ebola and other virus pathogens.

Emergex will generate a fully synthetic Priming CD8+ T cell Adaptive Vaccine candidate by targeting regions of the Chikungunya virus that are common amongst all Togaviridae viruses. The vaccine, as with all of Emergex’s vaccine candidates, combines two proprietary technologies comprised of [i] identification of viral protein fragments (otherwise known as peptides or ligands) carefully selected from an empirical viral code repository, or “ligandome” library, and [ii] a gold nanoparticle carrier, designed to deliver the selected peptides to the epidermis via micro-needles to promote natural long-term protective skin cellular immunity to mosquito-borne infections. The T cell priming vaccines have already shown to be safe in two ongoing clinical trials for dengue and SARS-CoV-2. When combined, the technologies constitute a 100% synthetic vaccine construct for Chikungunya and potentially other alphaviruses. Vaccine characteristics enable stability at ambient temperatures, suitable for the LMICs where Chikungunya is endemic and most prevalent.

Professor Thomas Rademacher, Founder at Emergex Vaccines, commented: “We are pleased to have been awarded this grant that will allow us to contribute to the global fight against mosquito-borne infections and recognize that the UK government and its advisers see the potential of our innovative technology. Emergex is developing next-generation priming T cell adaptive vaccines, which cover a range of viral and intracellular bacteria including COVID-19, dengue, influenza, etc., are designed to deliver broad and long-lasting immunity by preventing infected cells from progressing to a productive infection.”

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care of the United Kingdom, said: “I am delighted that these innovative projects – tackling serious and deadly diseases – will receive the funding they need to take their research to the next stage.”