Varsity partnership to develop cancer vaccines

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The University of Auckland is partnering with an American drug development company to launch a biotech start-up that will research novel cancer vaccines.

The new start-up, ‘SapVax,’ was formed by scientists from the University of Auckland and BioMotiv, an accelerator company in Cleveland in Ohio that is part of a $300 million initiative for advancing medicine.

SapVax will develop a suite of first-in-class cancer vaccines based on a novel peptide platform technology.

It is based on intellectual property licensed from the University of Auckland, developed by Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble and Dr Geoff Williams in Chemistry, and Professor Rod Dunbar, a physician-scientist, in the School of Biological Sciences.

Novel platform

All the academic scientists will continue to be involved in the clinical development of the platform.

“The Auckland team’s discoveries present a novel platform for overcoming traditional barriers to developing cancer vaccines. We look forward to accelerating their work into breakthrough therapies through SapVax,” BioMotiv Chief Executive Baiju R Shah said.

UniServices (Commercialisation Company of University of Auckland) General Manager Will Charles said that the partnership holds exciting promise of cancer immunotherapy.

“Our partnership demonstrates the value of University seed funds that can invest early and quickly to rapidly make inventions ready for further follow-on investment and partnering,” he said.

SapVax has a pipeline of similar vaccines in development with lead vaccines targeting a key antigen expressed in a broad range of cancers and Epstein-Barr virus proteins strongly associated with certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer, lymphoma, and gastric cancer.

Research funding

The research was funded by the Maurice Wilkins Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Auckland.

Auckland UniServices managed the transitional and early preclinical research program, which was supported by the University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund and the New Zealand government’s Pre-Seed Accelerator Fund.

The University of Auckland, represented by UniServices, was advised on the funding and licensing transaction by Innovator Capital, the London based, life sciences and sustainable technology specialist investment bank.

BioMotiv is the mission-driven accelerator associated with The Harrington Project for Discovery and Development, a $300 million initiative for advancing medicine, centred at University Hospitals in Cleveland.

The focus is to accelerate breakthrough discoveries from research institutions into therapeutics for patients through an innovative model that efficiently aligns capital and collaborations.

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Photo Caption:

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble

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