Austrian biotech Themis has received a financial boost for the development of its vaccines against infections like Chikungunya, which could be the next big global outbreak.
Themis, which specializes in the development of vaccines for a range of viruses, including Zika, Chikungunya, and cytomegalovirus, has closed a €10M Series C financing round. New York-based investment firm, Global Health Investment Fund (GHIF), led the financing and was joined by current investors, including Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, and Ventech. The proceeds will support Themis’ clinical and pre-clinical programs, including its lead candidate for chikungunya virus, which is progressing nicely through Phase 2.
Chikungunya fever is a viral infection transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. It originates in Africa but increased global travel and rising temperatures have caused the virus to spread. Over the last four years, there have been over 1.7 million cases across 45 countries, leaving patients with sudden fever and severe joint and muscle pain, potentially causing debilitating long-term effects.
Themis has modified a measles vaccine to make it express antigens from the Chikungunya virus. The antigens are delivered directly to macrophages and dendritic cells, stimulating a strong immune response. The vector is able to replicate, so continuously expresses antigens after immunization, resulting in long-term immunity. The vaccine is being tested in a 600-patient Phase II trial across the US, EU and South and Central America, which has yielded promising early results.
In addition, Glenn Rockman, Partner at GHIF, will join Themis’ Supervisory Board. On this, Themis CEO, Erich Tauber, commented: “There is a close alignment between our vaccine platform technology and their philosophy to invest in companies with the potential to have a meaningful near-term impact on global public health. We are excited to welcome Glenn to our Board.”
Vaccine companies for tropical diseases like Chikungunya may have worried after hearing about Sanofi’s problems with its dengue vaccine, most recently in the Philippines. However, Themis seems confident that its impressive performance in the clinic so far should convince onlookers that it will fare better. Elsewhere, Excivion is hoping to go one step further and produce a dual vaccine for both dengue and Zika. Oxitec takes an alternative approach, generating genetically modified mosquitoes to prevent the spread of disease.
Tropical diseases are often forgotten until a major outbreak takes place, so it is good to see biotechs like Themis preparing in advance, which could help to save thousands of lives. Let’s hope Themis can progress its pipeline through the clinic in time!
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