Acambis enters flu vaccine arena with launch of flu vaccine development programme

4 August 2005
New influenza vaccine candidate potentially offers permanent protection by overcoming mutations in influenza strains
Cambridge, UK and Cambridge, Massachusetts – Acambis plc (“Acambis”) (LSE: ACM, NASDAQ: ACAM) has commenced development of a potentially breakthrough new influenza vaccine that could offer permanent protection against influenza and may also offer protection against influenza pandemics. Influenza vaccines are currently administered annually. 
Acambis has entered into a research collaboration and licensing agreement with the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (“VIB”), a Belgian research institute.
Acambis and VIB will work together to develop a vaccine against both A and B strains of influenza, using Acambis’ influenza A vaccine candidate that it acquired from Apovia earlier in the year and additional technology licensed from VIB. Apovia is a US biotechnology company and started development of the influenza A vaccine candidate in 2000, having originally licensed the technology from VIB. Walter Fiers, emeritus professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Ghent, is an inventor of the patent rights licensed from VIB.
The aim of the research collaboration would be to generate a ‘universal’ vaccine candidate that would protect against both A and B strains of influenza and, more importantly, would not require annual changes to the formulation. This contrasts with current influenza vaccines that need to be changed, generally each year, to cope with genetic drift, mutations that occur in influenza strains circulating in nature, as well as major genetic shifts that can result in influenza pandemics. The need to change vaccine formulations each year results in delays in initiating vaccine coverage.
A major component of the new candidates will be M2e, the extracellular domain of the ion channel protein M2, which is specific to influenza A. Being highly conserved, M2e is intended to elicit protective immune responses against all strains of influenza A. M2e is incorporated in a unique carrier system that forms highly immunogenic virus-like particles.
The initial vaccine candidate against influenza A is currently in pre-clinical development. It is manufactured using recombinant bacterial fermentation technology, which aims to provide time and cost efficiencies compared with traditional egg-based production methods.

Dr Thomas Monath, Acambis’ Chief Scientific Officer, commented:

“The research collaboration with VIB using Acambis’ influenza A vaccine candidate will enable Acambis to develop a vaccine that could protect against all influenza strains. By targeting both A and B strains, we aim to avoid the need for annual re-engineering and manufacture of the new product, something that is not yet possible with existing vaccines. The need to develop a new vaccine each time a different influenza strain emerges often results in long delays before a population can be protected. The technology also has special importance as a potential means of protecting human populations against pandemic influenza strains.”

Gordon Cameron, Chief Executive Officer, said:

“This programme gives Acambis the opportunity to enter one of the most significant vaccine markets - influenza. The recent influenza vaccine shortages have highlighted the inadequacies of current influenza vaccines and their manufacturing methods. Through our influenza A vaccine candidate, we aim to improve protection against influenza A and to ensure a ready supply of vaccine.  The VIB collaboration gives us the opportunity to develop the ultimate influenza vaccine that will protect against all strains of influenza, reduces the need for annual vaccine re-engineering and can be produced using scalable cell culture-based manufacturing methods.”

Walter Fiers, Professor emeritus, University of Ghent and VIB, said:

“The research and pre-clinical development carried out so far supports the promising potential of a universal, M2e-based influenza vaccine. In view of the conservation of the M2e structure, vaccination against all human influenza virus strains may become possible, even before new epidemics or pandemics have started to spread. Moreover, the vaccine is a recombinant protein with a defined chemical structure which can be rigorously characterised and produced on a large scale. We are pleased to collaborate with Acambis in the further development of this promising vaccine.”