Oxford startup raises £685,000 to develop 'variant-proof' vaccines

LaToya Harding
·3-min read
Europe is currently battling with a third wave of coronavirus infections. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Europe is currently battling with a third wave of coronavirus infections. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

An Oxford startup has raised £685,000 ($944,409) to create variant-proof vaccines that have the potential to provide immunity against all future strains, including coronavirus.

Baseimmune, a biotech company founded by a group of Oxford University scientists, is using artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to predict how viruses will change, and to identify “future-proof” antigens that will form key elements of the next generation of vaccines.

As well as COVID, it is designing vaccines for malaria, HPV and others. Baseissume revealed that it is working on the world’s first multi genotypes therapeutic vaccine against HPV, designed to prevent those infected from developing cervical cancer.

The team has previously designed over 15 vaccines, with two in human clinical trials. They have also initiated the preclinical development of a number of its own vaccine candidates including a universal COVID vaccine and a veterinary vaccine against African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV).

Baseimmune’s technology delivers plasticity into vaccines “so that they are able protect against future variants and circulating strains” it said.

The biotech startup is working with world leading academics to build revolutionary vaccines and has five antigens in various stages of development.

These include a candidate vaccine for human infectious disease in collaboration with Vaccitech, the Oxford company that helped develop the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine, and a revolutionary Malaria vaccine in development with Imperial College London.

The company announced that it has received new investment from Mike Watson, a former Moderna (MRNA) executive, and European university VC fund, Creator Fund. Maki VC and Rockmount Seed Investments also joined the round.

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“Pathogens are a bit like dartboards and the vaccine the dart. The problem is that the dartboard keeps moving, sometimes we manage to hit them whilst others we can never hit in time,” said Dr Josh Blight, chief scientific officer and co-founder.

“We are seeing this now with reduced vaccine efficacy against emerging COVID variants. At Baseimmune, we’re changing this by designing vaccines which know where the dartboard will be next."

It comes as Europe is currently battling with a third wave of coronavirus infections.

France in particular is dealing with the rapid spread of Brazilian and South African variants and has announced a four-week nationwide lockdown from Saturday.

Schools in the country will close for at least three weeks, people will work from home, and travel within the country will be banned for a month after Easter.

“We will lose control if we do not move now,” president Emmanuel Macron said.

Meanwhile, regional leaders of two German states badly hit by a third wave of coronavirus have urged the rest of the country to impose tougher lockdowns to curb infection rates.

In a joint letter seen by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Bavaria’s conservative premier, Markus Söder, and the Green head of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, said the situation was “more serious than many believe”.

“That is why we must live up to our responsibility now and not discuss it any longer,” the two politicians said.

WATCH: WHO blasts Europe's slow vaccine rollout, as France heads for new lockdown