Science academics innovative cancer vaccine achieves significant milestones

08 March 2018

SapVax, the cancer immunotherapy spin out company founded by the Faculty of Science’s Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, Professor Rod Dunbar and Dr Geoff Williams has reached two more significant milestones in its quest to develop peptide-based, self-adjuvanting cancer vaccines.

Based in the United States, and set up in conjunction with BioMotiv (a for-profit, mission-aligned accelerator), SapVax have demonstrated their vaccines can activate human T cells in vitro and are about to move to in vivo testing.

They have also successfully raised $3.3 million to progress research and development towards this innovative series of vaccines.

The product has been designed to act synergistically with other immuno-oncology therapies, including newly-approved checkpoint inhibitors, and stimulate the immune system to mount a targeted, tumour-killing response to cancer.

The vaccine was developed using ground-breaking chemistry that enables easy manufacture, which is extremely timely in the new era of personalised medicines.

Head of the School of Chemical Sciences, Associate Professor Gordon Miskelly says, “It is exciting to see what started as a scientific collaboration between the Brimble and Dunbar groups’ heading towards commercial success.”

Professor Dunbar from the School of Biological Sciences is pleased to see the project take another step towards clinical trials.

“We’re delighted that work in our lab, especially by Dr Dan Verdon, was so well received by our company’s US-based Scientific Advisory Board,” he says.

“It’s also really exciting to see how the continuing advances in the chemistry programme under Margaret’s leadership - with Dr Geoff Williams’ recent discoveries really playing a crucial role in propelling the company forward.”

Professor Brimble from the School of Chemical Sciences loves the fact that SapVax is based on a fundamental chemistry platform developed by the Brimble and Dunbar groups at the University of Auckland (see article in Angewandte chemie).

“By joining forces with Rod, a world class immunologist, we were able to apply this chemistry to a clinical problem and now the vaccines are on the way to being used to treat patients with cancer.”

Both are grateful for the support they have received from the Maurice Wilkins Centre and UniServices and value the collaborative partnerships that helped establish SapVax as an international company.

Read SapVax news and subscribe to updates.

Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, School of Chemical Sciences
Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, School of Chemical Sciences
Professor Rod Dunbar, School of Biological Sciences
Professor Rod Dunbar, School of Biological Sciences