Ex-GSK vaccine R&D chief to lead new vax venture, directly challenging former employer

The former R&D head of GSK’s vaccine unit is going toe-to-toe with his former employer, launching a rival vaccine-centered biotech that’s immediately challenging one of the U.K. pharma's late-stage programs. 

After leaving GSK in June 2021, Emmanuel Hanon, Ph.D., is now set to become CEO of Vicebio, a new venture spun out of the University of Queensland based on a vaccine platform that’s touted as being capable of better stabilizing proteins used in shots, according to an announcement Thursday. The company has nabbed 18 million euros ($18.4 million) in seed funding from investment firm Medicxi to jump-start development of a respiratory syncytial virus vaccine—direct competition to GSK’s phase 3 jab—with the goal of entering the clinic in the second half of 2023. 

headshot of Vicebio CEO Emmanual Hanon
Vicebio CEO Emmanuel Hanon (Vicebio)

At the core of the company is its “molecular clamp” tech, which founders believe can better stabilize viral proteins, making Vicebio’s vaccines easier to administer and store. It was developed by a team led by Queensland professors Paul Young, Ph.D., Daniel Watterson, Ph.D., and Keith Chappell, Ph.D., before being licensed out to Vicebio by the university’s commercialization arm. 

The founding researchers tested the technology in a COVID vaccine in 2020, finding that two doses elicited an immune response in 99% of recipients 57 days after a second dose, although efficacy figures weren’t measured. The company says these data provided evidence of proof-of-concept informing its early pipeline, with ambitions to develop “multivalent formulations targeting several respiratory viruses into ready-to-use single shot vaccines.”

Hanon said he was “honored” to take the baton in the clinical development race. His hiring lends immediate credibility to the small company after he spent 20 years at GSK, rising through the ranks before ultimately becoming global R&D lead for the vaccine division. In that role, he oversaw development of the British Big Pharma’s shots for shingles, malaria and the flu.

He also chaired the scientific advisory board for the Center for Epidemic Preparedness, a global organization that’s helped fund COVID-19 development and equitable distribution to lower-income countries. 

In addition to Hanon, Vicebio has named Giovanni Della Cioppa, M.D., chief medical officer, after he led GSK’s Italy R&D center for vaccine development. Another GSK alum, Jean Smal, Ph.D., is hopping aboard as chief technology officer.