Accelerating Breakthrough Discoveries into Medicines



SapVax, a New Immuno-oncology Startup, Launches to Develop Novel Cancer Vaccines

Erin Reese

Formed by BioMotiv and University of Auckland, New Zealand

CLEVELAND AND AUCKLAND — JANUARY 17, 2017 — BioMotiv, a drug development accelerator associated with The Harrington Project, and the University of Auckland, New Zealand, are announcing the formation of a new biotechnology startup, SapVax, which will develop a suite of first-in-class cancer vaccines based on a novel self-adjuvanting peptide platform technology. 

SapVax is based on intellectual property licensed from the University of Auckland and developed by Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, CNZM, FRSNZ, and Doctor Geoff Williams, PhD, in the School of Chemical Sciences, and Professor Rod Dunbar, MBChB, PhD, a physician-scientist, in the School of Biological Sciences.  All of the academic scientists will continue to be involved in the clinical development of the platform.

The University of Auckland researchers have identified a novel method of coupling synthetic long peptide antigens and palmitate-derived lipopeptide TLR2 agonists that demonstrates potential as a self-adjuvanting platform technology for developing vaccines targeting tumor-associated antigens, tumor neo-antigens, and infectious disease-associated antigens.  SapVax has a pipeline of self-adjuvanting vaccines in development, with lead vaccines targeting the cancer-testis antigen NY-ESO-1, expressed in a broad range of cancers, and Epstein-Barr virus proteins strongly associated with certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer, lymphoma, and gastric cancer.

“The Auckland team’s discoveries present a novel platform for overcoming traditional barriers to developing cancer vaccines,” said Baiju R. Shah, Chief Executive Officer of BioMotiv. “We look forward to accelerating their work into breakthrough therapies through SapVax.”

The research was funded by the Maurice Wilkins Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Auckland.  Auckland UniServices (“UniServices”) managed the transitional and early preclinical research program, which was supported by the University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund and the New Zealand government’s Pre-Seed Accelerator Fund.  

The University of Auckland, represented by UniServices, was advised on the funding and licensing transaction by Innovator Capital, the London based, life sciences and sustainable technology specialist investment bank. 

“We are delighted to be partnering with BioMotiv to launch SapVax and develop this exciting new platform into clinical candidates to further the exciting promise of cancer immunotherapy”, said Will Charles, the General Manager of Technology Development at UniServices.

“Our partnership demonstrates the value of University seed funds that can invest early and quickly to rapidly make inventions ready for further follow-on investment and partnering.”

About BioMotiv
BioMotiv is the mission-driven accelerator associated with The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development, a $300 million national initiative for advancing medicine centered at University Hospitals in Cleveland. The focus is to accelerate breakthrough discoveries from research institutions into therapeutics for patients through an innovative model that efficiently aligns capital and collaborations. The company leverages an experienced team and advisory board to select, fund, and actively manage and advance a portfolio of drug development programs.

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About UniServices
Auckland UniServices Limited is the commercial research, knowledge transfer and custom education company of the University of Auckland - dedicated to connecting the University’s capabilities to business and investors, Government and the community.  It is the manager of the University of Auckland’s seed fund the University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund, a $20 million fund dedicated to investing in technology and start-ups developed by the staff and students of the University.

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About University of Auckland: a leader in innovation
Many University of Auckland academics are also inventors and entrepreneurs. According to The Reuters Top 75 list of Asia’s most innovative universities in 2016, the University ranks as the most innovative university in Australasia. It has also been recognized by the MIT Skoltech Initiative as one of the five emerging world-leading universities in entrepreneurship.

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About Innovator Capital
Innovator Capital ("ICL") is a London based specialist investment bank advising emerging, sustainable technology, ICT and life science companies. Established in 2003, ICL provides strategic and capital markets advice, M&A, licensing and intellectual property services.

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Press ReleaseErin Reese