PowderJect renewed in Chiron spin-out

Related tags Immune system

The needle-free injector technology underpinning PowderJect, the
drug delivery company which shot onto the biotechnology scene in
the mid-1990s and was snapped up by Chiron of the US last year,
will form the foundation of a new therapeutic vaccines company set
up in the UK.

The new company, called PowderMed and based in Oxford, will use the PowderJect technology in new DNA-based therapeutic vaccines for a range of diseases, including cancer and chronic viral infections. Chiron Vaccines will retain a minority stake in the UK firm.

The technology stimulates a powerful T-cell mediated immune response to a broad range of viral and cancer antigens, and the strength of this response is what differentiates the technology from rival systems, according to PowderMed.

Using the PowderJect device, DNA precipitated onto microscopic gold particles, is propelled by pressurised helium gas at near supersonic speeds into the epidermis. The microscopic gold particles are used as the carrier because they have the appropriate size and density needed to deliver the DNA directly into the immunologically active antigen presenting cells (APCs) of the epidermal layer.

These cells are large enough that the microscopic gold can easily enter them, according to PowderMed, and studies have shown that once inside the nuclei of APCs, the DNA elutes off the gold and becomes available for transcription. This means that it produces the encoded protein that when presented by the APCs to lymphocytes, triggers strong T-cell mediated immune responses.

PowderMed has been formed from the combination of Chiron's PowderJect-based vaccines unit and has the backing of €30 million in venture capital. It also benefits from an ongoing collaboration with the world's number two drug company - GlaxoSmithKline - which will be expanded now that PowderMed has been launched as a new entity.

Under the revised agreement, GSK will gain additional licences to the PowderJect technology in the field of oncology and PowderMed will acquire two GSK DNA vaccine programmes that are based on it.

Meanwhile, for its part PowderMed said it intends to start clinical trials of five vaccines based on the delivery technology which should start clinical development in the next two years.

These vaccines include vaccines for genital herpes, chronic hepatitis B virus, genital warts, lung cancer and HIV.

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