BioWorld International Correspondent

PARIS - Wittycell SAS, a young biotech company that is developing new adjuvants for optimizing prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines against cancer and infectious disease, signed an exclusive worldwide license agreement with three American research establishments. The agreement includes the Scripps Research Institute, of San Diego, Brigham Young University, of Provo, Utah, and the University of Chicago.

The agreement gives Wittycell, of Reims, access to a technology involving the development of immunomodulating adjuvants based on glycolipid NKT cell activators. NKT cells are deeply involved in the regulation of defense mechanisms against infectious diseases, cancer and autoimmune diseases, and those three U.S. institutions played a leading role in demonstrating the specific properties of lipids in the immune system.

The institutions have granted Wittycell exclusive licenses to a series of patents covering a wide range of product candidates for potential use in oncology and infectious disease, three of which are currently at the preclinical development phase. At the same time, the three U.S. organizations have acquired undisclosed equity stakes in Wittycell and will receive late-stage development milestones from the French company.

Wittycell was created in August 2005 as a spinout from the Jean Godinot Institute cancer center in Reims, France. Its founders were Jacky Bernard, head of Jean Godinot Institute's cell therapy unit; Vincent Serra, an immunologist who formerly was vice president of European operations at Anosys Inc., of Menlo Park, CA; and Philippe Pouletty, founder and CEO of the Paris-based venture capital firm Truffle Venture. Truffle Venture was the first investor in Wittycell, having provided it with €700,000 of seed capital.

Wittycell said that biopharmaceutical companies developing new vaccines based on defined antigens for treating cancer and infectious diseased lack non-toxic adjuvants for triggering an effective cellular response and enhancing the activity of their vaccines. Defined as formulated compounds or additives that, when combined with vaccine antigens, help to direct or boost the body's immune system, adjuvants can enhance the magnitude, the delay and the duration of immune responses.

Vaccines containing adjuvants can thus produce greater vaccine protection within a shorter treatment time, and according to Wittycell, discovering the key players in the immune response and the different signaling properties in cells should permit the creation of new adjuvants.

It currently has two types of product in pre-clinical development corresponding to the two main classes of adjuvant: immunomodulators, which induce a preactivation of the immune system, and antigen delivery systems, which deliver the antigen to the right immune cells. It is developing lipid adjuvant products for therapeutic and prophylactic vaccines against infectious diseases and cancer using its NKT adjuvant platform, on the one hand, and cellular adjuvant products for therapeutic vaccines against cancer based on its allogenic dendritic platform for the development of antigen delivery systems.

Wittycell said that the adjuvants it is developing have a broad range of potential applications and correspond to more than 80 percent of the vaccines in development, the market for which is forecast to reach more than $18 billion by 2015.