DCU technology to develop next generation of cancer vaccines

Vaccinogen, the US-based cancer vaccine company has signed an agreement with Dublin City University which gives it an exclusive two-year option to evaluate and acquire the revolutionary Direct Clone Analysis and Selection Technology (DiCAST) platform to develop safe and effective cancer vaccines and immunotherapies.  In conjunction with the agreement, the scientific team that developed DiCAST at the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (BDI), including the lead researcher, Dr. Paul Leonard, has joined Vaccinogen and will spearhead the Company’s operations in Ireland, a critical component of its global translational research strategy. 

Vaccinogen intends to use DiCAST to expand and significantly accelerate the company’s human monoclonal antibody (HuMab) programme, screening patient-derived biological samples derived from patients who have acquired anti-cancer immunity.  Vaccinogen plans to use DiCAST to identify immunologically relevant data from the biological samples to develop the next generation of safe and effective cancer vaccines and immunotherapies. 

According to the option agreement, Vaccinogen will have exclusive rights to evaluate DiCAST for a two-year period.  If Vaccinogen elects to exercise its option to acquire DiCAST, the technology may be further developed beyond Vaccinogen’s initial antibody focus to other biologic and small molecule drug discovery, with potential use across multiple areas of therapeutics, diagnostics, and basic research.

Andrew L. Tussing, Chairman and CEO of Vaccinogen, stated, “We believe this option agreement with DCU represents a truly transformational event for Vaccinogen.  The addition of DiCAST, which we believe is unrivaled in the speed and precision with which it is able to analyse biological samples in highly ordered subnanolitre microcapillary arrays, offers the potential to significantly enhance our HuMab program and our efforts to discover and develop cancer therapeutics and vaccines for a host of oncology indications.”

DiCAST (Direct Clone Analysis and Selection Technology) is a novel, patent pending technology designed to improve the speed and quality of early-stage drug discovery. This preclinical platform allows for simultaneous analysis of millions of samples to determine immunologic activity and identify optimal targets for further development.  The DiCAST platform includes three highly specialised components: a densely packed microcapillary array, real-time assay visualisation with proprietary convergent computation software integrating multiple analytical datasets, and a novel custom-built high precision recovery system that allows for individual target acquisition while preserving biological material integrity. Laboratory results have demonstrated that DiCAST can analyse over 35,000 times more samples per test iteration than traditional methods and can identify new immunological components with improved performance that previously could not be identified using traditional approaches.

Professor Brian MacCraith, President of Dublin City University, commented, "We welcome this important announcement by Vaccinogen, and we are delighted to have entered into this strategic relationship to advance a technology invented at our Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (BDI) at DCU.  Additionally, the appointment of former BDI staff to positions at Vaccinogen is a strong endorsement of DCU's wider research expertise in biomedical sciences, while the advanced facilities and research support that BDI provides were significant factors in Vaccinogen’s decision to base its Irish research operation at our Glasnevin campus. We hope that the DCU-Vaccinogen relationship can be a model for future academic industry collaboration and effective knowledge transfer. The underlying technology benefited from proof of concept funding for basic life sciences from Science Foundation Ireland and later stage development and prototype funding support from Enterprise Ireland.”

Mr Tussing added, “We are fortunate to have such a strong partner in DCU and look forward to benefiting from the team of renowned scientists now part of Vaccinogen, including the lead inventor of DiCAST, Dr. Paul Leonard.  Dr. Leonard and his team, who represent the technological know-how of this platform, will be instrumental as Vaccinogen establishes operations in Ireland at the DCU campus and focuses on opportunities to rapidly translate our immunological component discoveries into pipeline candidates.”

Formerly a principal investigator in translational research at the BDI at DCU, Dr. Leonard is an entrepreneurial scientist, inventor, and the current recipient of the Irish laboratory awards “2014 Innovation of the Year” for his work on the DiCAST platform.  As Vaccinogen’s Director of In Vitro Assay Development, Dr. Leonard is responsible for spearheading the implementation of DiCAST for Vaccinogen’s current work in developing cancer vaccines, as well as fully optimising this technology to answer other challenging biological questions.

Joining Dr. Leonard at Vaccinogen is the team of scientists from the BDI who were instrumental in developing the DiCAST platform.  Collectively the team will be responsible for establishing Vaccinogen’s Irish operations to focus on translational medicine development and early-stage human antibody discovery and characterisation.  Members of the DiCAST team include co-inventor Valerie Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Ruth Larragy, Ph.D. and Brian Manning, B.Eng.

“Speaking on behalf of my research colleagues, it is a tremendous opportunity to join Vaccinogen and continue playing a direct role in leveraging DiCAST to potentially transform the discovery and development of immunologic therapeutics, including cancer vaccines,” remarked Dr. Leonard.  “It is our belief that DiCAST is a revolutionary platform that offers enhanced productivity, screening, recovery and economic yields compared to current ‘gold standard’ antibody discovery technologies.  These capabilities should enable Vaccinogen to improve the efficiency of our antibody discovery processes, reduce production costs and move future products up the value chain more quickly.”

Peter Morsing, Ph.D., Global Head of Business Development & Strategy at Vaccinogen, concluded, “We believe DiCAST will give Vaccinogen a significant competitive advantage by enabling the company to leverage its library of patient-derived samples to rapidly identify new antibody drugs that can either be developed internally or potentially out-licensed.  Additionally, the high-throughput screening capabilities that DiCAST offers are widely sought within the pharmaceutical industry as a key component of early-stage antibody production and drug discovery. We are very pleased to have secured this option agreement with DCU and look forward to maximising the potential of this technology.”

The financial terms of the option agreement were not disclosed.  Should Vaccinogen exercise its option to acquire DiCAST, DCU would be awarded a combination of cash and warrants to purchase Vaccinogen stock. Upon potential acquisition, Vaccinogen would have rights to out-license the DiCAST technology to research and pharmaceutical partners worldwide.