InvVax Achieves Preclinical Milestone with Universal Flu Vaccine Candidate
Privately held InvVax, Inc. (Pasadena, CA), in collaboration with Trudeau Institute Contract Research Organization and Hong Kong University, announced that it has demonstrated preclinical success for its universal flu vaccine candidate.
Arguably the most formidable characteristic of the influenza virus is its ability to rapidly mutate, owing to a high error rate of the enzymes which make copies of its genome. This leads to the generation of hundreds of circulating strains, and the constant shifting of those strains. Each year the World Health Organization predicts the most dominant circulating strains for inclusion in the next annual flu vaccine, but often those predictions are erroneous, causing the ineffectiveness of the vaccine. The constant genetic movement of the virus is known as “mutational escape.”
The solution that most flu vaccine companies and academic laboratories have taken to solve this problem is to go after so-called “conserved” regions of the virus. These are regions that are the same from strain to strain. While this promises to be an effective strategy to hit all strains of flu (thus “universal”), InvVax believes that it fails to account for the most important feature of the virus – its high mutation rate. Conserved regions are often mutable, meaning that they can mutate without destroying the virus, as was found in a genomic screen by the company’s Founder while at UCLA. In contrast, there are what is known as “invariant” regions: places where the virus, if it mutates, will self-destruct. The InvVax differentiator is to go after these regions to prevent viral mutational escape. InvVax’s proprietary regions, which they have exclusively licensed from UCLA, are the basis of the company’s universal flu vaccine program.
Dr. Arthur Young, Founder and President of InvVax, stated: “It’s like an automobile: remove its hubcaps, and it’ll still be able to drive; but remove its engine, and it can’t go anywhere. InvVax is targeting the flu’s engine, and its tires, etc., while most other groups are taking pieces off the car which may not be critical for the running of the car.”
In its development program, InvVax settled on four invariant regions of influenza that induce an immune response in mice. Delivery of their vaccine through the nose and under the skin, followed by infection with lethal flu virus, resulted in 100% survival vs. 0% for the control, for one H1N1 and two H3N2 strains. InvVax is now developing their vaccine, consisting of fifteen invariant regions, for human clinical trials.
Dr. Leo Poon, InvVax’s collaborator at Hong Kong University, remarked, “This is highly interesting; if the invariant regions work as predicted, this might be the Achilles' heel of influenza virus. We might eventually come up with a very effective way to…control influenza virus infection.”
“It’s still a long road ahead,” Dr. Young admitted, “but we’re really on the verge of something exciting. We believe we’ve got the only product that disallows viral mutational escape, and that all other products out there will eventually fail because the virus is going to beat them by its ‘blind’ ability to rapidly mutate.”
“And what’s more incredible,” added Dr. Young, “is that we’re now using this platform—determining where the invariant regions are for other viruses that mutate rapidly, such as HIV and Hepatitis C virus—for new, durable vaccines and therapies. So influenza is just the beginning.”
InvVax is currently raising a Series A round to fund preclinical safety studies and Phase 1 clinical trials.
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