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UK's Emergex raises $11M from Singapore-based VC for new dengue, Ebola vaccine

A U.K.-based vaccines company set up by an Emeritus professor of molecular medicine at University College London has raised $11 million from Singapore-based venture capital group, Vickers Venture Partners, to work on preventing diseases including Ebola and Zika.

Established by Thomas Rademacher, also a serial biotech entrepreneur, Emergex Vaccines Ltd. is developing synthetic T cell vaccines to prevent dengue, Ebola, Zika and other serious infectious diseases. Funded by high net worth individuals and a U.K. government grant for innovation since its creation in 2016, this first institutional series A round of funding has been led by Vickers, whose chairman, Finian Tan, will also join the board of Emergex as a nonexecutive director.

Rademacher co-founded Oxford GlycoSciences Ltd., the first biotech spin-out from Oxford University, which listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1998 and was acquired by Celltech Group Ltd. in 2003 for £101 million. While at UCL in 2014, Rademacher embarked on some research to find out how quickly a vaccine could be made to address the Ebola outbreak.

SNL ImageEmergex Vaccines has raised $11 million in series A financing to develop new vaccines for diseases including Ebola and Zika.
Source: Thinkstock

"It all originally stemmed from making of an emergency Ebola vaccine, if required — and then we realized that that technology applied to both the intra-cellular bacteria and to virals," said Emergex CEO and founder Rademacher in an interview with S&P Global Market Intelligence. "All of a sudden, there was a gigantic global need for making vaccines in a totally different way — and that's really where we fell into a global need."

Emergex's T cell vaccines use the same technology developed in similar vaccines for cancer, Rademacher said. But this T cell vaccine stimulates the cellular immune arm compared with most vaccines that are antibody-producing. As a consequence, they do not cause allergic, autoimmune or antibody-related side effects.

"It allows the infection but it prevents disease," said Rademacher. "That is absolutely critical because in order to develop natural immunity to anything, you actually have to physically become infected [by] something — so if you block infection to something, people never develop natural immunity."

Emergex's underlying platform technology enables rapid development of vaccines, compared with traditional vaccine manufacturing approaches that can take years to develop and scale-up, due to their biological nature or the need for vast quantities of eggs to produce the flu vaccine. These T cell vaccines have no "live" components and therefore carry no infection risk from live attenuated pathogens. They are also cheaper to produce and can be easily transported and administered even in remote parts of the world as they can be stored and handled at room temperature.

"With today's rising global population, the risk posed by infectious diseases is greater than ever before," said Vickers' Tan. "We see great potential in Emergex's technology as it allows vaccines to be produced quickly, administered easily and sold at a fraction of current prices."

Rademacher said this round of financing will support a first-in-human clinical trial of its Flavivirus vaccine for dengue fever in Switzerland, as well as Phase 1b clinical trials in the endemic regions of Singapore and Brazil. It will also fund preclinical and early clinical trials for the universal Influenza and Filovirus programs, as well as research into vaccines for other infectious diseases.

"We're the only people making these types of vaccines," said Rademacher. "We're unique."