Okairos raised €16 million, or about $20.61 million, in a Series B private financing round. The funds will be used to advance the company’s pipeline of prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines through clinical proof of concept.
The financing was led by Versant Ventures and joined by the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund. All existing investors—BioMedPartners, LSP, and Novartis Venture Funds—also participated in the round.
“We see Okairos as a great investment opportunity, aligned with our strategy that defines T-cell vaccines as one of our top priorities,” comments Michel Pairet, Ph.D., head of the Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund. “There is also great potential in the development of therapeutic cancer vaccines.”
Okairos was formed in 2007 and is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, with laboratories in Rome and Naples, Italy. Its technology platform is centered on the development of potent adenovirus vectors to generate a pipeline of T-cell vaccines against infectious diseases like malaria, HIV, hepatitis C, and universal influenza. Okairos has also developed a cell line called PROCELL92 that allows the production of adenovirus vectors that do not grow in traditional cell lines.
The firm completed a Phase IIa trial with a malaria vaccine candidate and has a prophylactic and a therapeutic HCV vaccine in Phase Ib studies. Okairos expects to progress vaccines against Ebola, Marburg, and universal influenza into the clinic soon. At basic research level, the company has four additional vaccine programs against respiratory syncytial virus, Herpes simplex virus type 2, cytomegalovirus, and cancer.
Okairos says that its scientists have circumvented the problem of high seroprevalence, associated with existing adenovirus vectors, by isolating and extensively characterizing a large number of adenovirus strains from chimpanzees. New, highly potent adenovirus vectors, not neutralized by antibodies present in humans, have been developed. These vectors are capable of infection and growth in human cell lines approved by regulatory agencies, the company points out.
Okairos has developed a vaccination protocol involving a heterologous prime-boost that exploits the high potency of adenovirus vectors as primers of T- and B-cell immune responses, which can be boosted either by another vector or even by recombinant proteins or peptides.