Zikavax, a consortium of EU research groups, has received €5 million ($5.32 million) in funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 program to support the development of an affordable Zika virus vaccine. The Zikavax partners include the nonprofit European Vaccine Initiative, which will coordinate the program, together with Vienna-based vaccine firm Themis Bioscience, the Institut Pasteur (Paris), and the French government-funded research organization, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA).
The Zikavax program will exploit Themis’ Themaxyn® platform vaccine technology, which uses the standard measles virus vaccine as a vector. The firm says the Zikavax project will compliment development of its in-house Zika vaccine R&D, through which a number of vaccine candidates have already been tested in animal models, and GMP manufacture established with a view to initiating Phase I studies in 2017.
“Developing an effective Zika vaccine has become a global health priority for preventing the further spread of the virus, commented Odile Leroy, M.D., executive director of the European Vaccine Initiative and coordinator of the Zikavax project. “We are convinced that the use of the measles vaccine delivery platform, one of the safest and most efficacious vaccines available to date, will allow for a rapid and cost-effective development of a Zika vaccine.”
Themis licensed the Themaxyn measles vaccine vector platform from the Institut Pasteur during mid-2016. Vaccines developed using the Themaxyn technology are designed to deliver selected antigens directly to macrophages and dendritic cells to trigger a specific immune response. Themis maintains that the replicating vector vaccine continues to express antigens after immunization, which generates an ongoing antigen-focused immune response for long-term protection.
Themis’s internal pipeline includes candidates against chikungunya, Zika and dengue viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, norovirus, and cytomegalovirus. The chikungunya vaccine has already undergone a Phase I study. Within the last month, Themis raised €10 million in a Series B round of financing to complete the Phase II trial, and prepare for Phase III development. In September, the firm was separately awarded £1 million ($1.26 million) by Innovate U.K. (a government, non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), to support its Zika vaccine project through Phase I development.