Osivax, a Lyon-based biotechnology company, secured €17.5M from the European Innovation Council and €15.1M from Bpifrance. The funding will be used to develop vaccines that protect from all current – and even future – flu and coronavirus outbreaks.
Most current vaccines have a specific target protein they work against. They train the immune system to recognize this particular protein and neutralize the microbe or virus that carries it. In the case of viral infections, the usual targets sit on the surface of the virus where they are easily accessed by white blood cells and antibodies.
Influenza viruses are notorious for their high mutation rates. “Traditional seasonal influenza vaccines produce an antibody response, recognizing only targets on the surface of the virus. The virus can mutate, escaping antibody attacks”, explained Alexandre Le Vert, CEO and co-founder of Osivax. Generally, coronaviruses also mutate quickly, though this hasn’t been observed yet for SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19.
Osivax is developing a universal influenza vaccinec that “would prevent influenza caused by all current and future strains of the virus,” said Le Vert. The vaccine candidate is currently being tested in a phase IIa clinical trial.
The company’s technology is designed to train the immune system to recognize internal virus proteins. These targets mutate less often than external proteins and are the same among all flu strains.
The vaccine consists of nanoparticles, each carrying seven copies of the target, which can activate the immune system in its entirety. “The immune response triggered in humans by [our vaccine candidate] is best-in-class. We are looking forward to the confirmation in phase II trial results, expected early next year” noted Le Vert.
Osivax plans to use the same approach to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine. A vaccine targeting internal proteins of the coronavirus would protect not only against Covid-19, but also against SARS, MERS, and the common cold coronaviruses. This would give it a distinct advantage compared to most Covid-19 vaccines in clinical trials; most of them focus on the spike protein that lets the virus enter human cells, which sits on the surface and is unique to Sars-CoV-2.
“The influenza vaccine could reach the market as early as 2025,” said Le Vert. “We anticipate our coronavirus vaccine candidate to start a phase I clinical trial in 2021. Depending on the situation and on the availability of effective vaccines against coronavirus, commercialization of the vaccine could then take a few years.”