Vienna-based Themis Bioscience will develop vaccine candidates against an undisclosed disease target in partnership with big pharma Merck Sharp & Dohme.

As part of the agreement, MSD will provide research funding and make an equity investment in Themis Bioscience. In addition, Themis will be eligible to receive up to €200M in milestones, in addition to royalties on sales. 

The partners have not disclosed how many vaccine candidates will be developed, or what the disease target is, other than a ‘blockbuster indication.’ 

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Themis Bioscience develops vaccines for infectious diseases as well as cancer. Its most advanced program is a vaccine for chikungunya — a viral infection for which there is no vaccine or preventive treatment despite its potential to cause global outbreaks. 

“Based on compelling results in a phase II clinical trial… our vaccine candidate demonstrated up to 100% seroconversion rate and an excellent safety and tolerability profile. We remain the global front-runner in bringing a vaccine for chikungunya to the market and we are in the final preparations for a pivotal phase 3 study world-wide,” Erich Tauber, CEO of Themis Bioscience, told me. 

This chikungunya vaccine has been a way for Themis to test the potential of its vaccine platform, which was originally developed at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. The technology is based on the measles virus, which is modified to deliver the desired antigen to immune cells to trigger long-term immunization. Unlike other vaccine approaches, this technology can be used to insert multiple antigens of large size within the viral vector.

The company, initially focusing on infectious diseases, is now also developing vaccines for cancer indications following its goal to target indications with high market potential. This agreement is further validation for our platform and enables us to advance a program in a blockbuster indication, with a strong partner experienced in developing and commercializing vaccines,” said Tauber. 

Themis is also working on smaller, but emerging indications through non-dilutive funding. An example is its partnership with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. This collaboration will develop vaccines that prevent epidemics of infectious diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome and Lassa fever.

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