BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - Oxxon Pharmaccines Ltd., a therapeutic vaccines specialist, reached the upper limit of its ambitions, raising £15 million (US$23 million) in third-round funding to push its Phase II clinical programs in hepatitis B and melanoma through to proof of efficacy.

CEO Deirdre Gillespie told BioWorld International, "I'm very pleased. This is at the high end of what we wanted. I wasn't that short of money when I started so I wasn't under pressure to do this at any price. But there were more funds out there than we thought there were going to be."

Gillespie said the funding reflected widespread recognition of the commercial potential of therapeutic vaccines, where the technology is maturing to the stage that the vaccines will be able to address unmet medical needs.

The international syndicate of investors was led by Quester Capital Management in the UK and included Isis Capital (UK), NIF Ventures (Japan), Gray Ghost LLC (U.S.) and a U.S. institutional investor. Existing shareholders MVM (UK), Neomed Innovations ASA (Norway) and the Isis College fund (UK) made follow-on investments.

The money will fund further development of vaccines, or "pharmaccines," as Oxford-based Oxxon calls them, to treat hepatitis B and melanoma, which both are in Phase II; and to bring a further product for treating an undisclosed infectious disease into clinical development. "We are now focused on driving our two therapeutic vaccines products to proof of clinical efficacy, and on broadening our pipeline," Gillespie said.

Oxxon's products use sequential immunization with two different vectors carrying the gene for the same antigen. The two-stage regimen primes the immune system to recognize the target and then boosts the immune response, generating cytotoxic T lymphocytes. The Phase I trials proved that worked in terms of immunological response, and Gillespie said she expects results of the Phase II trials, showing whether this translates into a clinical effect, within two years.

Oxxon was spun out of Oxford University, and also has full rights to three further pharmaccines being developed by academic collaborators. Two of them, against HIV and malaria, are in Phase II, and both have charitable funding. The HIV vaccine is supported by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, while the malaria product is funded by the Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The third, a vaccine against tuberculosis, recently entered Phase I.

Gillespie also is planning to do some commercial deals, partnering Oxxon's technology in indications it is not working on, and also looking to partner with other therapeutic vaccines companies whose vaccines have shown some clinical efficacy, but not enough to take them forward. "We think we can work with those companies to boost their products - their product would become our prime."

The £15 million funding is expected to last Oxxon up to three years. "There are now some commercial activities we can pursue," Gillespie said. "I'm not going back on the road for a while."