The company will work on a vaccine for the hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), under a R&D partnership with the Singapore government’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB).
Per the agreement, Emergex will develop a cross reactive vaccine against the most common enteroviruses known to cause HFMD, including coxsackieviruses and enterovirus 71 (EV71), which will then be tested in murine models at IMCB.
IMCB’s executive director, Hong Wanjin, commented that there is an ‘urgent need’ for an effective vaccine against HFMD, as the virulence has increased substantially over recent years, resulting in a number of infant deaths.
According to Emergex, more than 7 million HFMD cases and 2,457 deaths were reported in China during EV71 epidemics between 2008 and 2012.
EV71 epidemics have also been reported in the US and Europe including the Netherlands, France, Norway, the UK, Hungary, and Greece.
Emergex’s synthetic vaccine approach
A spokesperson from Emergex told us that the company's technology, based on synthetic peptides, “could significantly change the way vaccines are developed in the future.”
Unlike traditional vaccines that stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies, Emergex aims to deliver “the right immunogenic peptides, to the right place,” resulting in a strong and long-lasting T-cell immune response to an infectious disease.
In order to develop such a vaccine, Emergex identifies the immune components of a ‘natural’ immune response and uses them to construct a synthetic vaccine.
This vaccine is engineered to trigger the same immune response that occurs if an individual had been exposed to the pathogen under natural conditions and then recovered from the infectious disease, i.e. post-infection protection.
In order to achieve this, the company’s vaccines enter the immune processing cells and activate a cell-mediated immune response, which targets and kills the viral producing factory cells.
“We combine synthetic peptides with a gold nanotechnology carrier system to make an extremely small particle, less than 5 nanometres in diameter,” the spokesperson said, adding that the small size of the nanoparticles enables dermal immunization and a less invasive microneedle skin patch administration.
In addition to that, the synthetic vaccines do not contain killed or weakened live pathogens, therefore they could be safer to develop and use, particularly for people with weakened immune systems. “We believe the potential for side effects is also dramatically reduced,” the spokesperson added.
Emergex’s technology enables faster manufacturing, compared to traditional approaches, and at a fraction of the cost, while their components are stable at ambient temperatures, avoiding the need for refrigeration.
The company is also working on EMX-001, a cross reactive Flavivirus vaccine against Zika, Dengue and yellow fever, a Filovirus vaccine against Ebola and Marburg and earlier-stage programmes for a yellow fever booster and diseases caused by coronavirus and chikungunya virus.