Covid-19 has been the harsh reality that brought the entire world to its knees last year and continues to do so until now. While scientists and big pharmaceutical companies work tirelessly to introduce a viable vaccine to counter the spread of the virus, the emergence of new mutants every now and then, has made fighting this deadly disease a herculean task for the world.
Existing vaccination hurdles
While vaccine development is the need of the hour, it is an extremely expensive, cumbersome and time-consuming process. Significant vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and others have been developed. However, the vaccinations are engulfed in logistical hurdles. The need for cold storage and hence the existence of an effective cold chain for vaccine distribution, accessibility to vaccination and how to combat the rising number of mutants is complicating the vaccination process.
While the global pandemic has highlighted the shortcomings of the health care systems, startups in the UK are utilising AI, machine learning and computer simulations to gradually change the way vaccines are being developed. They are looking at designing vaccines that would not depend on cold storage, be effective against future mutants and are accessible to people across the globe.
Historically, vaccines have not been a lucrative investment. But even this has changed since the pandemic rocked the world. Not only are these startups designing new vaccines but they have also managed to rope in huge investments and new partners to help them in the process.
The second and third quarters of 2020 saw some of the biggest investments by venture capital investors into health and biotechnology companies. We bring you the list of these UK-based health startups which are now steering their technologies to help fight the spread of this deadly virus.
Founders: Ariane Gomes, Phillip Kemlo, Joshua Blight
Funding raised: £685K
The biotech startup is combining biological expertise and big data to predict how viruses will change and identify ‘future-proof’ antigens that will form the crucial elements of the next generation of vaccines. In order to further the development of its platform and start pre-clinical development in the lab, the company has also secured investment, led by European university VC fund, Creator Fund, and includes Mike Watson, ex-president of Moderna’s infectious disease spin-out. The team has now initiated the preclinical development of a number of its own vaccine candidates including a universal Covid vaccine and a veterinary vaccine against African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV). Its software generates vaccine antigens associated with agricultural and human diseases including Covid.
Founders: Adrian Hill, Sarah Gilbert
Headquarters: Oxford, UK
Funding raised: €196M
The company’s vaccine technology uses an altered form of chimpanzee cold virus to transport genetic material that can help boost the human immune system and fight infection. The co-inventor of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University, the UK-based company was started by two Oxford University scientists and spun out of the university’s Jenner Institute in 2016. Its co-founder Sarah Gilbert was among the scientists who led AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine development efforts. The company is using the proceeds from the IPO this year to fund the development of its COVID-19 vaccine technology.
Founders: Amanda McMurray
Headquarters: Norwich, UK
Funding raised: £440K
The startup is developing effective, safe and affordable vaccines to treat serious diseases and to protect against new viral infection outbreaks. The company is applying its active virosomes technology to transform the vaccines industry by making it more affordable and open up new global mass markets.
Founders: Thomas Rademacher, Storme Moore-Thornicroft
Headquarters: Abingdon, UK
Funding raised: £7.94M
The UK-based biotech company is developing vaccines to address major infectious diseases which pose immediate threats to global health such as Covid-19, Ebola and Zika. Rather than using a syringe, the company claims that its vaccines can be delivered using patches with microneedles which is a great alternative.
Headquarters: London, UK
Taking the burden off the health care systems, oral administration of vaccines could not only be the most patient-friendly route but it could also improve vaccine efficacy through better accessibility and compliance. The UK-based biotech startup is developing breakthrough technologies for an oral Covid-19 vaccine.