Horizon enters into partnership with Pirbright Institute to support research into improvement of vaccine yields

12 Apr 2018 | Press release

  • Extends Horizon’s biomanufacturing capabilities into vaccine manufacture
  • Research supported by a grant from the Canadian International Development Research Centre, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation

Cambridge, UK, 12 April, 2018: Horizon Discovery Group plc (LSE: HZD) (“Horizon” or “the Group”), a global leader in the application of gene editing and gene modulation to deliver inspired cell solutions, today announces that it has extended its biomanufacturing capabilities through an agreement with The Pirbright Institute to jointly work on a research program aimed at deploying cell engineering to increase the yields of livestock vaccines.

The development of efficient and affordable vaccines against viral diseases plays an important role in meeting the rapidly growing demand in the AgBio market, where global production is persistently reduced through viral infection and where the consequences of an outbreak can be devastating.

Many vaccines are produced in avian systems, both in hen’s eggs and increasingly in cultured cells, however yields are often limited by immune responses that can prevent the replication of vaccine viruses. The Pirbright Institute was first to describe a set of immune proteins in chickens, called chIFITMs, which interfere with viral replication in cells. The Institute has now received a grant from the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund which is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Affairs Canada, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre, to support the practical development of this research.

Horizon will use its expertise in CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to remove the chIFITM genes in chicken cells, thereby overcoming one of the main barriers for viral replication with the potential to boost the levels of vaccine virus produced between five and ten-fold. Vaccines produced in avian systems represent an approximately $3.4 billion market1. A significant increase in yield may lead to a substantial decrease in manufacturing costs and pricing. The project is set to run for four years and this new technology could be commercially available by 2021.

Richard Vellacott, Interim CEO and CFO, Horizon Discovery, commented: “As a global leader in the application of gene editing to harness the power of the cell, Horizon is transforming the life sciences both in human biology and beyond. We are now extending our biomanufacturing expertise into the agriculture market where there is an acute need to protect and improve yields, driven by a rapidly growing global population and increasing environmental pressures. We are pleased to partner with The Pirbright Institute in this project which promises to have a significant impact on vulnerable populations worldwide.”

Dr Mark Fife, research lead and Head of the Genetics and Genomics group, The Pirbright Institute, said: “The increase in yield sought from this project will make vaccines cheaper to produce and more accessible to livestock owners in developing nations. We will first focus on increasing flu vaccine yields, but the technique can be applied to multiple livestock viral diseases and potentially human diseases as well. Once this technique, for which a patent application has been filed, has been successfully piloted, The Pirbright Institute intends to work with commercial partners, such as Horizon Discovery, who will help bring this new technology to market."

1Global Markets and Manufacturing Technologies for Protein Drugs, BCC Research, May 2016