Google Backs Another Biotech Startup: This One Wants to Develop a ‘Biotech Superglue’ to Create New Vaccines
March 31, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
GV, formerly Google Ventures, the venture fund backed by Alphabet/Google, participated in a $5.01 million (4 million British pounds) investment in a company called SpyBiotech. No, the company doesn’t have anything to do with espionage, Internet browser histories, or Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. SpyBiotech focuses on the so-called “super glue” that combines two parts of the bacteria that causes strep throat.
Spun out of Oxford University, based on research performed by its Department of Biochemistry and the Jenner Institute, the company hopes it can use its science to develop vaccines. When the bacteria that cause strep throat are separated, they are attracted to each other and attempt to reattach. Business Insider writes, “SpyBiotech is hoping it can use this principle to develop vaccines, rather than virus-causing bacteria, that will bind onto viral infections. It believes this technology can be particularly effective in quickly developing vaccines for fast-spreading epidemics.”
“We view this superglue technology as a game changer to enable faster development of effective vaccines against major global diseases,” said Sumi Biswas, associate professor at the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, to Business Insider. “We are excited to begin the journey of taking this versatile and innovative approach forward and moving our new vaccines from the laboratory to human clinical testing.”
The name of the company comes from one of the bacteria that can cause strep throat, impetigo and other infections, Streptococcus pyogenes, often shorted to Spy. When Spy is split into a peptide (SpyTag) and its protein partners (SpyCatcher), they are attracted to each other. The researchers then isolated the “glue” that creates that attraction, and believe it can be used to bond vaccines together.
According to TechCrunch, “It plans to use this glue first to bond antigens not to actual pathogens, but to virus-like particles, replacing other techniques that have in the past been deemed too imprecise and ineffective.”
“We see the Spy technology as the missing link in rapid and robust VLP vaccine design and see GV as a natural co-investment partner to take this forward,” said Lachlan MacKinnon, principal at OSI, to TechCrunch. “We are privileged to be working with four founders who bring such an impressive combination of academic prowess and clinical-stage experience to the company.” OSI is Oxford Sciences Innovation, Oxford University’s own venture fund, which was one of the SpyBiotech investors as well.
The four founders of SpyBiotech are Biswas along with Mark Howarth, professor of Protein Nanotechnology; Simon Draper, professor of Vaccinology; and Jing Jin, a Principal Investigator at The Jenner Institute.
This investment marks GV’s thirteenth European investment since it started in June 2014. According to London-based partner Tom Hulme, about half of GV’s investment in Europe are biotechnology and life sciences. Overall, about a third of GV’s investments are in life sciences.
“SpyBiotech punctuates research that’s been developing for some time here at Oxford, and is a testament to the benefits of collaboration between our departments and institutes,” said Carolyn Porter, Deputy Head of Technology Transfer at Oxford University Innovation, in a statement. “Oxford is playing a leading role in developing the next generation of vaccines, and SpyBiotech—and other spinouts working in this sector—showcases the potential impact the University can have on the wider world.”