The field of DNA vaccines is developing rapidly, particularly in the context of COVID-19, which has seen a number of DNA vaccine candidates go to trial. One such vaccine is COVID eVax by Italian start-up, Takis Biotech
Initially grounded in cancer DNA vaccines, Takis is investigating an individualized cancer vaccine for locally advanced or metastatic solid tumors (stage 3 and 4 and therefore severe with lower survival rates). Takis turned their attention to the pandemic in 2020, utilizing the platform technology they created in cancer and directing it towards COVID-19. Concerned by the potential challenges related to RNA and viral vector vaccines (the most common available currently), particularly around their ability to target new variants, they began investigating the potential for a DNA vaccine. Takis partnered with Rottapharm Biotech to initiate the phase I trial, which is due to conclude in August 2021.
Their hope is that their vaccine candidate could offer protection against the threat of new variants, which is now a significant concern for many governments and public health authorities.
“A DNA vaccine can be immediately ‘edited’ and targeted towards any variant, which means there is not the same question mark that exists in relation to whether existing vaccines will work against emerging variants, we simply put the edit into production. As many countries move out of lockdowns and are afforded more freedom, such as international travel, the management of variants is a key concern. Likewise, with DNA vaccines there is no need to store it at sub-zero temperatures which provides a lot of challenges in distribution particularly with continents such as Africa,” commented Luigi Aurisicchio, CEO of Takis.
What are DNA Vaccines?
DNA vaccines use genes from a virus or bacteria to stimulate the immune system. This is different to more conventional vaccines which use whole ‘dead’ bacteria or virus or another part of it such as a protein. The advantages include quicker development times as its easier to make large amounts of a gene rather than making proteins or growing the virus, easier to store and transport as it doesn’t need to be kept at any certain temperature, and they can be very made at low cost.1
A new era in vaccine technology
New vaccine technology utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic is serving as a ‘proof of concept’ which could significantly advance use in other diseases such as cancer.
“For the first time, due to COVID-19, our vaccine technology has been validated in the clinic, which means that we can translate it over to cancer much quicker than we could have before. We now have the evidence to show that it works and can provide potential investors with confidence which will help us to accelerate our progress significantly. As a result, NeoMatrix is a Takis’ spin-off born thanks to the EIT Health Catapult program and will focus on personalized cancer vaccines using the same technology developed at Takis,” continued Fabio Palombo, Director at Takis and Chief Scientific Officer at NeoMatrix Biotech.
Takis Biotech has been supported by EIT Health via its accelerator programs, which aim to support life science start-ups in building and growing their businesses as well as accelerating their products to market. Additionally, the company has been introduced to EIT Health partner research institutes to support with their future clinical trial needs.
According to market analysis, 80% of the Italian biotech industry is made up of small and micro companies, which have been a real driving force for growth in the industry.2 While Italy is considered as a moderate innovator, according to the European innovation scoreboard (a comparative analysis of innovation performance in EU),3 the country’s innovators in the fields of biotech, MedTech and digital health are gaining attention on the world stage and garnering the attention of investors.
Takis hope to resume their work in cancer vaccines imminently and will focus initially on melanoma and lung cancer.
Photo: Luigi Aurisicchio, from Takis Biotech