Actelion creates vaccine startup with €30M investment and Max Planck assets

Actelion (SIX:ATLN) has got into startup creation. The Swiss biotech has committed €30 million ($33 million) to set up Vaxxilon, a synthetic carbohydrate vaccine-focused startup with a mission to push a program licensed from the Max Planck Society into the clinic within the next three years.

Professor Peter Seeberger

Reinach, Switzerland-based Vaxxilon is starting life with Actelion-veteran Tom Monroe at the helm and four chemists from Professor Peter Seeberger's team at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces handling the science. The team will use the €30 million Actelion is willing to drip feed into Vaxxilon over the next few years to advance the vaccines discovered and synthesized by Seeberger's team into the clinic. The goal is to have a vaccine in human trials within three years, something Seeberger thinks will be easier to achieve within a small R&D operation such as Vaxxilon.

For Actelion, which is the majority shareholder in Vaxxilon, the arrangement provides it with a way to expand its R&D activities beyond its core areas of focus. "A collaboration gives us the opportunity to engage our areas of research that are promising in parallel to our own research," Actelion SVP Andrew Weiss told FierceBiotech. Such parallel research is part of how Actelion plans to expand its business into other specialty areas and in doing so lessen its reliance on pulmonary arterial hypertension.

At this stage, public details of the startup's pipeline priorities are sketchy, but Actelion sees the science licensed from Max Planck having therapeutic and preventative uses. Seeberger himself has researched the synthesis of vaccines against targets such as malaria, anthrax and tuberculosis, while other researchers have investigated the use of synthetic carbohydrate-based therapies as cancer immunotherapies. In cancer, the idea is to target cell surface carbohydrates, an approach that has been held back by the poor immunogenicity of the resulting vaccines.

Seeberger has devoted more time to researching the use of carbohydrate vaccines against infectious diseases, a field in which speed of production and shelf life can make a big difference. "This new class of vaccines promises to be perhaps more efficient, faster and more reproducible to create and manufacture, and has advantages of distribution and administration which may improve access to vaccines around the world," Seeberger said in a statement.

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