Emergex preps for synthetic vaccines human testing with new R&D facility and key hire

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Emergex's vaccines are based on synthetic and nanoparticle technologies. (Getty/kasto80)

British biotech Emergex Vaccines has secured an R&D facility and hired a chief scientific officer as its vaccines based on synthetic and nanoparticle technologies move closer to clinical testing.

The new R&D site, located at Milton Park in Oxfordshire, U.K., is already fully equipped and ready to use. With the in-house R&D capabilities, Emergex will have internal control of all its vaccine development programs, the company said in a statement Monday.

Phillip Williams, a nanoparticle expert, will join the company as chief scientific officer to lead research activities at the site. Williams came with experience in gold nanoparticle, which serves as the basis for Emergex’s vaccine design. He was previously principle scientists at Midatech Pharma, from which Emergex exclusively licensed the nanoparticle platform for infectious disease vaccine development in 2016.

In addition, nanoparticle experts at the site have also joined Emergex.

“These appointments, along with securing and further enhancing our own operational capability via this new facility, represent a real and significant milestone in the evolution and growth of our business,” Storme Moore-Thornicroft, the company’s cofounder and chief operating office, said in a statement.

Unlike traditional vaccines that contain or are made from live viral components, Emergex’s vaccines are created using synthetic MHC class I presenting peptides derived from highly conserved components of the pathogen. The gold nanotechnology system acts as a carrier or scaffold that combines these antigens.

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Because the final particles are very small, they can enter immune cells to trigger a T cell-mediated immune response. The small size also makes it possible for Emergex’s vaccines to be given with a less invasive microneedle skin patch, according to the company. An easier administration method, plus a synthetic construct that allows a vaccine to be stored at room temperature, could make Emergex’s products more accessible in remote areas.

“As well as being designed to provide long-lasting immunity and to be easily administered, Emergex’s vaccines can be rapidly produced for testing and then cost-effectively manufactured, a great feat in the vaccines industry and one of which I am proud to be a part,” Williams said in a statement.

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The R&D enhancement comes as Emergex is about to enter the clinic with its lead candidate, EMX-001, which is designed to universally target diseases in the flavivirus family including Zika, dengue and yellow fever. The company is now looking to start phase 1 within 2019.

Last May, the U.K. biotech also secured a £979,318 ($1.28 million) grant from the country’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, to advance a universal flu vaccine program through preclinical development and make clinical batches for in-human testing in 2020. It also has a program against filoviruses such as Ebola and Marburg viruses.

Emergex hopes it could soon create a pipeline of post-phase 1 vaccines ready for purchases from governments and non-governmental entities. As for the commercial market, the company plans to team up with pharmas and get licensing and royalties, according to its website.