Merton Fellow co-founds 'biochemical superglue' vaccine company

Simon Draper, a Supernumerary Fellow at Merton and Associate Professor at Oxford University's Jenner Institute, is one of the co-founders of a new company which will use a molecular 'superglue' to aid the rapid development of vaccines targeting a range of diseases.

SpyBiotech, an Oxford University spinout company, has raised £4 million in seed funding from Google’s venture capital arm GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Oxford Sciences Innovation. It will use this to prepare for Phase I trials of virus-like particles (VLPs) that will utilise a particular attribute of the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes (known as Spy, from which the company takes its name).

The SpyBiotech team have divided Spy into a peptide, SpyTag, and a protein partner, SpyCatcher, which are naturally attracted to each other and form a powerful covalent bond—dubbed ‘biochemical superglue’—once combined. The company is developing its own virus-like particle, SpyVLP, to exploit this property, using it to coat SpyVLP with antigens far more effectively than current methods which are notoriously imprecise, expensive, and prone to misassembly. SpyBiotech's innovative technique will enable them to produce stable vaccines that can then induce robust antibody responses.

The company plans to target diseases such as major viral infections at first, but is looking to develop SpyVLP into a universal platform that can be adapted to tackle a wide variety of conditions. In particular, owing to its versatile and easy-to-use nature, SpyVLP could underpin future efforts to rapidly combat outbreaks and pandemics.

One of the other co-founders of the company, Sumi Biswas, Associate Professor at the Jenner Institute, said:

"Researchers in the vaccine field, including us, have struggled to make effective VLPs against many diseases for a long time. We view this superglue technology as a game-changer to enable faster development of effective vaccines against major global diseases. We are excited to begin the journey of taking this versatile and innovative approach forward and moving our new vaccines from the laboratory to human clinical testing."