Novartis VC arm backs universal flu shot company

Wed Feb 17, 2010 5:42am EST

* Immune Targeting Systems raises $13.6 mln in venture cash

* Starting vaccine clinical trials in 2010

LONDON, Feb 17 (Reuters) - A British biotech company working on a universal flu vaccine has secured a further 8.65 million pounds ($13.6 million) of funding from a group of investors including the venture capital arm of Novartis (NOVN.VX). Privately owned Immune Targeting Systems (ITS) said on Wednesday the cash would allow it to progress its lead candidate FP-01 through to completion of Phase II proof of concept studies. Initial Phase I clinical trials will start this year.

Developing a universal flu vaccine to protect people against all flu strains by targeting elements of the virus that do not change from season to season is a "holy grail" of researchers.

But such a vaccine has so far eluded pharmaceutical firms and scientists, and those in development are still years away from reaching the market.

If successful, universal vaccines would represent a breakthrough and allow governments to build long-term stockpiles against the threat of flu pandemics, like H1N1 swine flu, since stocks would not have to be changed each year.

The ITS vaccine -- a synthetic and heat-stable product -- uses a depot system to deliver high density antigens via nanoparticles to the immune system.

Other companies working on universal flu vaccines include U.S.-based Inovio Biomedical INO.A, which is one of several firms using so-called DNA vaccines. These use a fragment of DNA to marshal the body's own immune system to fight off a virus.

Other investors backing the ITS funding include Sweden's HealthCap, Truffle Capital of France and London Technology Fund. (Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Hans Peters) ($1=.6375 Pound)

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