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The Bristol startup taking lead role in development of coronavirus vaccine

By ellie pipe, Thursday Apr 9, 2020

Researchers at a St Philip’s biotech company are playing an integral role in the development of a vaccine for coronavirus.

Imophoron has created a new, highly adaptable, easy-to-manufacture, rapid-response platform for vaccines and has already produced multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

The startup based in Unit DX is working with the University of Bristol’s COVID-19 Emergency Research (UNCOVER) Group and researchers are due to begin pre-clinical trials within just two weeks.

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“With our technology, we hope to contribute to resolving the major health and economic threats caused by emerging viruses such as COVID-19,” says Frederic Garzoni, co-founder and CEO at Imophoron, which is one of the university’s spin-out companies.

“We have optimised our process and can now design and roll-out potential vaccines in about two weeks, ready for testing.”

A key benefit of the platform developed by the team at Imophoron is the speed with which candidate vaccines can be identified and could be manufactured in large quantities.

Researchers say the vaccines produced are extremely stable and require no refrigeration, potentially enabling unrestricted distribution world-wide. There is also a reduced risk of potentially dangerous side effects.

Vaccine candidate image from Imophoron. Image courtesy of Imophoron

Professor Imre Berger, co-founder of Imophoron and director of the university’s Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology, explains: “COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) infects cells using its so-called `Spike’ protein. Most COVID-19 vaccines now being fast-tracked present the complete Spike to the immune system, which reacts by making antibodies.

“This approach risks inducing antibodies that bind to the wrong parts of the Spike and could make the disease even worse. In vaccines for SARS-CoV-1, this sometimes resulted in severe lung tissue damage; Imophoron’s vaccines, in contrast, present only very specific parts of the Spike essential for cell entry and are potentially much less prone to this risk.”

Imophoron’s platform, the ADDomer©, is a synthetic, self-assembling, nature-inspired virus-like particle.

The vaccines will need to be studied in human clinical trials once they have completed pre-clinical tests and the company is looking for partners to further the development of the candidates and platform.

Professor Adam Finn, director of the Bristol Children’s Vaccine Centre at Bristol Medical School and co-ordinator of UNCOVER, explained: “We believe the approach has a number of potential advantages, including avoidance of induction of disease-enhancing antibody responses, ready manufacture and thermostability, avoiding the need for cold chain storage.”

Fred Garzoni and Imre Berger of Imophoron. Photo courtesy of Unit DX

Main photo of Fred Garzoni and Imre Berger of Imophoron, provided courtesy of Unit DX

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