Powering change in vaccine development and drug discovery

Professor Linda King

Professor Linda King’s pioneering research has fuelled important changes in the world of vaccine and drug development. The new technology that she developed with colleague Robert Possee led to a spin-out company which is a world-renowned centre of excellence, enabling leading biomedical companies and research institutions to advance their work.

Linda’s area of expertise - baculoviruses - and their role in producing special proteins, resulted in the development of a one-step kit which could be used for gene expression, a key part of developing new drugs and vaccines. The kit simplified what used to be a lengthy process requiring specialist skills, speeding up product development by boosting the quality and yield of proteins produced. 

Baculoviruses - a new workhorse

The story of the kit’s innovative technology goes back to 1995 when Linda and her colleague Robert Possee at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) began studying baculoviruses. A type of virus infecting insects, they can’t replicate in human cells, making them a safe tool for biomedical researchers. By using baculoviruses, they were able to develop a way of making a wide variety of important proteins much more quickly and conveniently.

The intellectual property behind the kit, known as flashBAC technology, is licensed to Oxford Expression Technologies (OET), the spin-out company that Linda and her team at Oxford Brookes set up together with NERC.

Off the shelf

The simplified process of the flashBAC kit has meant that commercial labs and researchers can save both time and resources in developing vaccines, diagnostic kits and other products. The technology is also used by OET to produce the proteins for customers who are unable to make them in their own labs. As a result, the spin-out has established itself in the rapidly expanding market of ‘off the shelf’ research services, enabling companies to avoid having to set up their own dedicated facilities or allowing them to outsource the process if their labs are at capacity.

Since 2013, OET has launched four new easy-to-use versions of its core kit, including one which increases the transfer of genetic material within mammalian cells to boost gene therapy. By producing proteins more quickly and efficiently, the technology has enabled 100+ biotech companies and global research institutions to advance their drug discovery, diagnostic kits and vaccine development programmes.

Coronavirus

“The groundbreaking technology developed by Linda and her colleagues is driving research and product development across the world, spanning multinational pharmaceutical and biotech companies and animal health companies as well as leading research institutions.”

Licensing and the search for a Covid-19 vaccine

Vaccine injection

OET has also completed license deals with leading biomedical companies and academic institutions worldwide. This has played an important part in progressing viral vaccines to clinical trials as swiftly as possible. The urgent search for vaccines for Covid-19 is a case in point. In 2020, OET used its technology to help Vaxine Pty Australia develop a Covid-19 vaccine, and in August 2020, OET received funding from Innovate UK to help progress the Covid-19 vaccine project.

OET’s licensed technology has also led to new kits being developed for diagnosing viral diseases in pigs and poultry as well as a range of other products.

Pushing the boundaries

The groundbreaking technology developed by Linda and her colleagues is driving research and product development across the world, spanning multinational pharmaceutical and biotech companies and animal health companies as well as leading research institutions like the Francis Crick Institute and the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Manchester, Harvard, Yale, Berlin and Tokyo, along with the UK Government's Animal and Plant Health Agency.

OET continues to be at the leading edge of new biomedical research. One testament to the company’s pioneering work is its success in securing funds. Since 2015, it has gained over £2.4m contracts from the UK’s central research funding body Innovate UK, investing £750k of its own funds to develop diagnostics and vaccines for emerging diseases.

It’s a measure of the spin-out’s ethos that its net profits are pumped back into further research and development with collaborative partners. The system provides rich research opportunities for a dedicated 15+ team of bioscientists including PhD students, all of whom are playing their roles in developing the next generation of gene therapies, diagnostics and vaccines.

Image credits:

Coronavirus - Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash
Vaccination - 
Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash

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