Big DNA wins Life Sciences Award
Last night, at a ceremony in Edinburgh, life sciences firm BigDNA, founded at Roslin BioCentre two years ago, won Nexxus’ Most Promising Young Life Science Company of the Year Award (East). From the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ to the seasonal flu, new viral strains sweep around the globe each year while scientists and companies race to produce better vaccines. BigDNA’s new vaccine technology is designed to manufacture vaccines faster and more cheaply than ever before.
Dr. John March, Chief Executive Officer said, “We have progressed in leaps and bounds in the last two years in terms of technology development. This award is fantastic in terms of official recognition of the progress we have made, and in particular, it identifies the important role that our dedicated and innovative science team have played in this progression.”
The company has enjoyed rapid growth, to twelve employees half of whom are PhD scientists. It raised additional investment of £1.5million recently, and former Defence Procurement Minister, Lord Freeman was appointed as chairman last year. Big DNA announced the establishment of its Science Advisory panel last month, which includes distinguished scientist Professor Noreen Murray among others. The firm’s vaccine manufacturing facility was officially opened by Scottish Finance Minister John Swinney MSP in May of this year.
Big DNA will begin clinical testing of their lead product, a Hepatitis B vaccine, in 2011 and then move on to develop additional vaccines, for influenza, Herpes Simplex 2 and other diseases where a high unmet need, or less than ideal vaccine, currently exists.
Dr. Karen Jervis, Commercial Director said, “The next few years will be pivotal for Big DNA as we develop our clinical vaccine portfolio. We will continue to strengthen and build the company through new appointments and international partnerships, both in the human and animal health arenas. Every member of our team is delighted to receive the Nexxus award as it reaffirms their motivation in achieving these goals.”
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Notes for Editors
2009 Annual Nexxus Life Science Awards – The Annual Nexxus Award for Most Promising Young Company of the Year (East) was presented to BigDNA at an event held in Edinburgh on 24 November 2009, attended by over 130 representatives of the East of Scotland life science community. Runners up in this category were ImmunoSolv, an R&D company specialising in programmed cell death (apoptosis), a naturally occurring phenomenon of major importance in biological and pharmaceutical research; and Solid Form Solutions, a pharmaceutical development company focusing on Salt Screening; Polymorph Screening; Crystallization Development and Co-Crystal Screening for the development of novel pharmaceuticals.
Nexxus, central Scotland’s network for life scientists, was launched in September 2003 with the aim of promoting and supporting research excellence, innovation and knowledge transfer within the life science community in the West of Scotland. In the summer of 2008, Nexxus was successful in achieving further funding of around £1.3M for the third phase of the project which allowed it not only to continue its activities in the West but, in collaboration with the Edinburgh Science Triangle, to expand its services to life scientists across central Scotland by the setting up of a second network hub in the East.
BigDNA Ltd (www.bigdna.com) – Founded in 2007, Big DNA designs and develops new and innovative vaccines targeting diseases of high unmet need and those which require improvements to existing treatments. The company’s core technology is based on bacteriophage, synthetic nanoparticles which are engineered to deliver DNA (genetic) vaccines in a highly efficient and effective way. These “phage vaccines” have a number of advantages over conventional vaccines, including reduced number of doses, significantly reduced times for development and manufacture and a better immune response.
The advantages of phage vaccines lend the technology to a broad range of applications, including opportunities for needle-free dosing, the prevention and treatment of human, veterinary and fish diseases, as well as the challenges brought about by pandemic or biodefence-related situations.
So far, the company has developed a number of therapeutic and prophylactic vaccine candidates to target a number of human and veterinary indications including prophylactic/therapeutic Hepatitis B, Chlamydia and a range of aquaculture and livestock diseases. A new range of additional human vaccine candidates are under development.
Big DNA’s technology has many potential advantages in vaccine development, production and delivery – they generate good immune responses with small amounts of product, only a single dose, or very few administrations of vaccine are needed to mount an effective response. Since the host makes the vaccine internally, the use of “phage” could lead to novel vaccines against complex diseases such as cancer and malaria. This technique also has rapid development – new phage vaccines can be created in weeks, rather than months, which makes it important for developing vaccines against pandemics and seasonal outbreaks. The manufacturing process is simple. Phage production requires a simple animal-free growth medium and minimal equipment. Phage production is fast and reliable. Thousands of doses of vaccine can be made overnight from a single litre of culture. Current technology (for an influenza vaccine for example) would require many thousands of special grade eggs for an equivalent yield. Phage are robust, can be freeze-dried, stored at ambient temperatures, and delivered orally or by immersion. This greatly simplifies delivery since cold-chain transportation and needles are no longer required. For aquaculture applications, immersion/oral vaccination protocols could greatly expand the market.