Blue Water Vaccines, developing universal flu vaccine, completes $7m financing following successful preclinical study

Vaccine based on pioneering mathematical models, research from University of Oxford.

Blue Water Vaccines, a company developing a universal flu vaccine based on technology developed at the University of Oxford, has closed a $7 million seed capital round led by CincyTech. The round was oversubscribed, with additional participation from CincyTech-affiliated private investors. The financing follows a promising preclinical study which offered early validation of the company’s novel approach to vaccine design.

Decades after vaccines have dramatically reduced deadly infectious diseases including smallpox, diphtheria and polio, influenza remains a global public health threat. More than one billion people contract the flu annually, resulting in 3- 5 million hospitalizations and 500,000 deaths.  Currently, seasonal vaccines are customized every year to protect against the flu strains that world health officials believe will be most dominant, with no guarantee of protection.  As the Centers for Disease Control recently reported, the 2018-2019 seasonal flu vaccine was among the least effective in years, at 29% effective overall and just 9% in the second half of the season.

“The seasonal flu vaccine is based on arcane technology,” said Joseph Hernandez, a seasoned entrepreneurial biotech leader and CEO of Blue Water Vaccines. “Developing a single vaccine to protect against all influenza strains requires a more refined understanding of the virus and a fundamentally new approach.  Our vaccine, derived from groundbreaking mathematical models and research, represents both.”

Findings by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the Department of Zoology, led by theoretical epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta and virologist Dr Craig Thompson, suggest flu is not as variable as previously believed.  Mathematical models analyzing the way historic flu strains change over time led to the theory that the epidemic behavior of influenza is primarily determined by immune responses acting upon regions of the virus that are limited in variability.  Additional research identified these regions; mice vaccinated with just four variants of the region of limited variability received immunity to all historical influenza strains.

“This work serves as a good example of how evolutionary models can have translational impact.  We have gone from a prediction of a mathematical model describing how flu evolves to a blueprint for a universal flu vaccine,” said Dr. Thompson.

Blue Water Vaccines secured exclusive rights to the vaccine from Oxford University Innovation (OUI), the research commercialisation company of the University of Oxford.

Christine Whyte, Senior Licensing and Ventures Manager, Oxford University Innovation, said, “This is an exciting opportunity for OUI to commercialise a new vaccine approach to preventing influenza arising from ground-breaking work that has changed our understanding of the how the virus evolves. This strong collaboration between Blue Water Vaccines and Oxford University will support continuing research by the academic team in the Zoology Department, with plans to carry out the first trials of the vaccine with the Oxford Vaccine Group.”

“The team at Blue Water Vaccines is pursuing the holy grail of vaccines: a universal flu vaccine,” said Samuel Lee MD, Director at CincyTech.  “We are pleased to support a world class team towards achieving this breakthrough.”

“CincyTech is a knowledgeable partner with a strong portfolio of human health-focused companies,” said Hernandez.  “Cincinnati is an ideal location to efficiently build the company and for its track record in life science innovation.”

The capital will finance an additional preclinical study, followed by a Phase 1 trial targeted for 2020.  The company will be headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a lab in Oxford, UK.

This article was first published by Oxford University Innovation here.