Ex-GSK vaccine chief to lead new UK biotech Vicebio

by Stephen Riddle

GSK’s former head of vaccines R&D – Dr Emmanuel Hanon – is heading up a new biotech called Vicebio that will go up against his former employer with a vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections.

The London-based company was founded by venture capital firm Medicxi in 2019, but has now come out of stealth mode with financial backing of €18 million and a platform based on a ‘molecular clamp’ technology developed by researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia.

There is already a clutch of candidate RSV vaccines in late-stage development – including GSK’s own shot which is heading for regulatory filings after clearing a phase 3 test last month – but Vicebio thinks its VXB-211 jab could offer improvements.

The molecular clamp approach holds viral glycoprotein antigens in a vaccine in a precise configuration, allowing them to stimulate the immune system whilst also keeping them stable for long-term storage and administration in ready-to-use liquid form, said the company.

A COVID-19 vaccine developed using the technology cleared a phase 1 proof-of-concept study in Australia, but Vicebio is focusing first on RSV, with clinical trials of VXB-211 scheduled to in the second half of next year.

UQ’s Dr Keith Chappell – one of the discoverers of the molecular clamp technology along with Prof Paul Young and Dr Daniel Watterson – will serve as lead scientific advisor to the new biotech.

Dr Emmanuel Hanon

Hanon’s credentials come mainly from a 20-year career at GSK where he was involved in the development of next-generation adjuvants and their inclusion in vaccines for pandemic influenza, malaria and shingles before leaving the company in 2021.

He is a virologist and immunologist by training, and also serves as chair of the scientific committee of the  Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) alliance.

Hanon meanwhile is joined at Vicebio by two other ex-GSK staffers – Dr Giovanni Della Cioppa and Dr Jean Smal – who will serve as chief medical officer and chief technology officer, respectively, in what Hanon says is a “world class” vaccine team.

Cioppa led the clinical development of highly successful meningitis and influenza vaccines at GSK, said Vicebio, while Smal has been involved in the R&D and manufacturing of several vaccines as well as GSK’s adjuvant platform.

“I am truly excited about our molecular clamp technology, which is able to lock viral surface proteins into the optimal conformation with high immunogenicity, stability and manufacturing productivity – all crucial characteristics for vaccines that are difficult to obtain and to combine.” He said.

“With a strong team in place and a clinically proven technology, Vicebio has the potential to materially improve the options available to patients around the world.”

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