Oxford scientists raise VC investment to create variant-proof vaccines

Baseimmune, an early-stage UK biotech startup, is combining big data and biological expertise to predict how viruses will change and identify ‘future-proof’ antigens that will form the crucial elements of the next generation of vaccines. 

In order to further the development of its platform and start pre-clinical development in the lab, Baseimmune has secured a GBP685,000 investment, led by European university VC fund, Creator Fund, and includes Mike Watson, ex-president of Moderna's infectious disease spin-out with the support of Vaccitech and Oxford University. Maki VC and Rockmount Seed Investments also joined the round.

Baseimmune’s technology delivers plasticity into these vaccines so that they may protect against future variants and circulating strains. The biotech startup is working with world leading academics to build revolutionary vaccines and has five antigens in various stages of development. These include a candidate vaccine for human infectious disease in collaboration with Vaccitech (the Oxford company that helped develop the AstraZeneca vaccine) and a revolutionary Malaria vaccine in development with Imperial College London.

The team has also initiated the preclinical development of a number of its own vaccine candidates including a universal Covid vaccine and a veterinary vaccine against African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV). 

Dr Josh Blight, Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder, says: “Pathogens are a bit like dartboards and the vaccine the dart. The problem is that the dartboard keeps moving, sometimes we manage to hit them whilst others we can never hit in time. We are seeing this now with reduced vaccine efficacy against emerging Covid variants. At Baseimmune, we’re changing this by designing vaccines which know where the dartboard will be next. Through our innovative vaccine design platform. We harness sophisticated computation to globally monitor pathogen evolution and pathogenicity to generate a single vaccine which protects against both current and future unknown emergence strains, while targeting critical regions within the pathogen to generate a protective and future-proof vaccine. We call this vaccines with plasticity. Imagine only needing one flu shot instead of one every year, that's vaccines with plasticity.”

Baseimmune’s ground-breaking platform focuses on antigen creation, the piece that mimics the virus, using a level of informatics depth on emerging and challenging pathogens that had been failed by traditional approaches in the past. Traditional antigen design is simple, making it relatively easy for pathogens, such as SARS-CoV-2 (Covid), to mutate in a way in which these antigens no longer represent the virus that is circulating in the population. Baseimmune uses the power of big data, high-performance computing and machine learning to design more complex antigens for better vaccines that can protect a wider range of strains and variants of a given pathogen today, as well as in the future.

Baseimmune’s software generates vaccine antigens associated with agricultural and human diseases, such as Malaria and Covid. 

Baseimmune, Professor Jake Baum, co-director of the Imperial College Institute of Infection, says: “Working with BI is shaking up our vision of what a vaccine against malaria looks like. The BI approach brings entirely new ideas to something at the very top of the global health agenda, a working vaccine to stop the nearly half a million children that die each year from malaria disease.”

Professor Adrian Hill - Director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, adds: “The antigen component of a vaccine is critical in teaching the body to recognise and defend against a disease. If it doesn’t teach the body about new variants when you are vaccinated then it’s possible it may not protect against future variants. Baseimmune’s approach of using AI to build future unknown variants right into the antigen provides an exciting opportunity to generate future proof vaccines against highly variable pathogens. The team behind Baseimmune used earlier approaches while at the Jenner Institute to generate a number of vaccines, one of which has now been licensed to Vaccitech Ltd for human trials.”

The founders Josh and Ari are both PhDs and Postdocs in vaccines from the world renowned Jenner Institute in Oxford. Together with self-taught computer scientist Phil they’ve created Baseimmune to build a machine learning platform for antigen design. 

Prior to the founding of Baseimmune, its co-founders used computational approaches to design over 15 different vaccines which have given very promising results. One of the key vaccines is the world’s first multi genotypes therapeutic vaccine against HPV, commonly associated with cervical cancer. This vaccine has been licensed to Vaccitech and its pre-clinical development was led by Prof Lucy Dorrell and Dr Gemma Hancock at the Jenner Institute. 

Vaccinologist Dr Hancock highlights the key edge that Baseimmune’s brought to the field of HPV vaccines: “Current HPV vaccines focus on covering only a few types and there is an urgent need for a vaccine that covers all the common types and prevents HPV infections developing into cancer. By working with the now Baseimmune co-founder Dr Blight and using his computational approach pioneered while at the Jenner Institute we could cover over 85% of all circulating HPV types that cause cervical cancer. The vaccine designed by Dr Blight has the potential to change the lives of millions of women suffering from HPV cervical cancer worldwide. Most excitingly, on the 18th of March this year the first patient received our vaccine in the Phase 1/2a clinical trial.”

CSO of Vaccitech Tom Evans talks about how founders of Baseimmune were key to the development of the HPV vaccine: “The members of the Baseimmune team were critical in the design of a multivalent HPV vaccine encompassing conserved regions of known high risk HPV strains and relevant early antigens. That confirmation of immunogenicity of that construct is now being tested in an ongoing clinical trial.”

Jamie Macfarlane, founder of Creator Fund, adds: “Behind Baseimmune is an incredible trio of founders, consisting of Ariane and Josh, with post docs and PhDs in vaccine development, and Philip, a self-taught software engineer. They have an exceptional track record developing vaccines and are part of the Oxford ecosystem that were behind the Oxford Astrazeneca Covid Vaccine. This is the right team at the right time, and shows the power of brilliant PhDs like Josh and Ari to drive solutions for a world shaped by Covid. It is exciting to be supporting them as they lead on the opportunity for data-driven vaccine development, and develop a better approach to vaccine creation.