ATLANTA—Two vaccine-focused companies have come together in a new partnership aimed at generating cancer vaccines. GeoVax Labs Inc. and Vaxeal Holding SA will collaborate to expand GeoVax’s cancer immunotherapy program, with a focus on the company’s MVA-VLP platform.
Though no financial details were released, the collaboration covers the design, construction, characterization and animal testing of vaccine candidates using the MVA-VLP vaccine platform, with vaccine antigens that include Vaxeal’s proprietary designed sequences.
“We are delighted to enter into this agreement with GeoVax to support its MVA-VLP-based vaccine, using Vaxeal proprietary tumor antigens, and its anticipated progression into clinical trials,” Dr. Ahmed Bouzidi, CEO of Vaxeal, remarked in a press release. “This agreement also shows that Vaxeal remains fully committed to developing novel immunotherapies that meet the growing need for improved cancer treatments.”
GeoVax’s Modified Vaccinia Ankara (MVA) Virus-Like Particle (VLP) platform creates noninfectious VLPs in inoculated individuals. Genetic sequences of target antigens are inserted into the MVA genome, driving their expression in infected cells. The platform also adds sequences that incorporate antigens into VLPs and simultaneously encourage their budding from the membranes of infected cells. This approach leads to the body generating two pools of antigens as targets for an immune response—virus-infected cells and released VLPs—which in turn causes a robust immune response consisting of both antibodies and T cells.
Vaxeal’s approach includes working with promiscuous CD4 T cell epitopes, noting on its website that these epitopes “correspond to sequences able to induce an immune response in multiple donors.”
“Vaxeal chose to develop immunotherapies that activate both CTLs and CD4+ T cells, as they have been found to be more effective than vaccines that only target CD8+ T cell responses because of the action of CD4+ T cells on both CTL and humoral responses. In addition, CD4+ T cell responses play also an essential role in cellular immunity against cancer cells by contributing to production of an inflammatory microenvironment that favors immune cell recruitment around the tumors,” the company reports.
In addition, Vaxeal also pursues immunotherapies based on long synthetic peptides, noting on its website that the peptides “enable the generation of both strong and long-lasting CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses in humans while overcoming induction of immune tolerance.”
Dr. Farshad Guirakhoo, chief scientific officer at GeoVax, said that “We are pleased to begin this collaboration with Vaxeal to further expand GeoVax’s promising cancer immunotherapy program. This project will be complementary and mutually exclusive to our ongoing collaboration with ViaMune Inc. for co-developing cancer immunotherapies based on the MUC1 tumor-associated antigen. We intend to pursue additional collaborations with leading research institutions and others with their novel cancer antigens or technologies suitable for use with our MVA-VLP platform.”
The cell surface-associated Mucin 1 (MUC1) protein is abnormally expressed in many tumors. As such, it is a target of interest for GeoVax, with the company noting on its website that, “We are using our MVA-VLP vaccine platform to deliver abnormal forms of MUC1 (e.g. hypo-glycosylated forms found in tumors) with the goal of raising protective antitumor antibodies and T cell responses in cancer patients.” The goal is to introduce VLPs and thereby train the immune system to recognize and attack the target antigens that present on cancer cells. GeoVax began its collaboration with ViaMune in November 2016.
In other recent partnering news for GeoVax, the company is teaming up with the Georgia State University Research Foundation in a research collaboration agreement announced Jan. 17. The partners will design, develop and characterize several vaccine candidates for the treatment of chronic hepatitis B infections by uniting Georgia State’s preS VLP technology with the MVA-VLP platform.