Immunovaccine and Leidos extend malaria collaboration, moving vaccine candidates forward

National security contractor Leidos has extended its collaboration with Immunovaccine to develop a malaria vaccine under a parent contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

This new deal falls under a $23.7 million, five-year contract USAID awarded Leidos in 2015 to provide scientific support for the agency’s Malaria Vaccine Development Program. In June 2016, Leidos signed an initial subcontract with Immunovaccine to use its DepoVax vaccine delivery platform for early development of a peptide-based malaria vaccine.

Now that several preclinical milestones have been met in that initial subcontract, Immunovaccine said Leidos and USAID have decided to move these DepoVax-based candidates forward for further development. Under the new subcontract, the two companies will run more studies to identify the most promising formulations for clinical testing.

RELATED: Immunovaccine pairs with security firm Leidos on Zika work

DepoVax-based vaccines are freeze-dried and reconstituted in oil for injection. Immunovaccine says on its website that this oil-based attribute “mitigates the propensity for synthetic peptides or antigens to break down, thereby extending the stimulation of the immune response.”

The company has applied the platform in all its products. Its lead candidate, DPX-Survivac is a T-cell-activating immunotherapy that combines DepoVax with novel cancer stem cell antigen survivin as a target. It's being tested in different combinations—including with Incyte’s IDO1 inhibitor epacadostat and with Merck’s Keytruda—in ovarian cancer, and in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma as well.

The platform’s lead infectious disease candidate is a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine targeting the SH antigen. The company previously revealed positive topline results from a phase 1 study on the candidate, showing that all participants in the higher dosing group demonstrated antigen-specific immune responses one year after the last vaccination.

RELATED: Walter Reed, PATH to test modified regimen of GlaxoSmithKline’s Mosquirix

The Leidos deal isn’t the only malaria vaccine program Immunovaccine has joined. Just days before the announcement, the Nova Scotia-based company announced a preclinical pact with the University of Edinburgh’s Center for Immunity, Infection and Evolution (CIIE) to utilize the DepoVax system on CIIE-identified malaria targets. Results from studies in mice presented last October showed that their formulations generated strong, sustained, antibody responses after a single dose.

The deal also isn’t the only collaboration Immunovaccine has signed with Leidos. Last April, the two embarked on a Zika vaccine research under a similar assignment structure, in which Leidos handled antigen discovery and Immunovaccine provided DepoVax.

GlaxoSmithKline’s Mosquirix, currently in real-world pilot studies in three African countries, is the only approved malaria vaccine and the British pharma is working with PATH and U.S. Army researchers to further optimize the regimen. Other than that, Sanaria is also advancing its shot called PfSPZ in the clinic.