Themis raises €7M, adds GSK vet to board as partnership plans gather pace

Themis Bioscience has raised €7 million ($7.8 million) and reshaped its board of directors as it prepares to start mid-phase trials and step up its partnership strategy. Wellington Partners led the round, which gives Themis the money to move its Chikungunya vaccine candidate into Phase II.

Themis CEO Erich Tauber

The Chikungunya vaccine came through a 42-person Phase I trial unscathed late last year, giving Themis the confidence to push on with development. New investor Wellington Partners has also seen enough in the safety data and dose-dependent elicitation of neutralizing antibodies to open its checkbook. Vienna, Austria-based Themis is now gearing up for the Phase II trial while also assessing other ways it can use the measles vector platform it licensed from Institut Pasteur.

Themis created the Chikungunya vaccine by inserting antigens from the virus into a measles vaccine, an approach it thinks is applicable to other diseases. Wellington thinks the idea has legs, too. "Based on a proven measles vaccine platform, Themis' portfolio of vaccine candidates represent an attractive investment opportunity for Wellington," Regina Hodits, general partner at Wellington Partners, said in a statement. Themis upped its interest in applying the measles vector to other diseases after seeing the Phase I Chikungunya data.

The Austrian biotech is also thinking more seriously about partnerships now that it has cleared the first foothill on the long hike to market. A key piece of the strategy fell into place this week when Themis unveiled its revamped board, which now lists Gerd Zettlmeissl as its chairman and Jean-Paul Prieels as a member. Zettlmeissl was CEO of Intercell during the boom-and-bust years of 2005 to 2011, while Prieels was a 20-year veteran of GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) vaccine unit, leading vaccine R&D until he left the company in 2011.

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