BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Immune Targeting Systems (ITS) Ltd. raised £3.5 million (US$7.1 million) in a first round, enabling it to take a universal influenza A vaccine into the clinic and advance a preclinical portfolio of other synthetic vaccines against rapidly mutating viruses.

"This is more than we were aiming for originally," CEO Carlton Brown told BioWorld International. "We had some tightly focused plans, but the syndicate wanted to put more in, and do the right job in terms of the data package."

The round was led by Novartis Venture Fund of Basel, Switzerland; with Truffle Capital in Paris, France; HealthCap of Stockholm, Sweden; and the London Technology Fund. In addition, ITS received a £500,000 grant from the publicly funded development body, the London Development Agency.

ITS's technology uses a proprietary algorithm for selecting conserved epitopes that are then manufactured synthetically, combined with a nanoscale system for delivering them directly to the dendritic cells.

The delivery system involves conjugating fluorocarbon molecules to the peptides. Each vaccine will contain numerous such fluoropeptides in a dry powder formulation. The resulting fluoropeptides spontaneously form nanoparticles in solution, and are able to enter dendritic cells. Brown did not want to say what particular properties ITS is looking for when selecting suitable epitopes from among those that are conserved.

The company has reached proof of concept for its flu vaccine in animal models. The funding will allow it to put the complete the formulation together, validate its peptide selection and start a clinical trial two years from now.

ITS will work on HIV and hepatitis C vaccines also. Brown said the antigen selection process for those two diseases is complete, and there is validation for those it has chosen.