Poolbeg Pharma licences RNA-based immunotherapy for respiratory viruses from the University of Warwick

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags respiratory respiratory health Immunotherapy

Poolbeg Pharma has in-licenced a novel, intra-nasal RNA-based immunotherapy for respiratory virus infections developed at the University of Warwick.

Spun out of Open Orphan plc last year, London-headquartered Poolbeg has secured an exclusive licence to the dual antiviral prophylactic and therapeutic candidate POLB 002, which was developed at the University of Warwick and derived from twenty years of research with virologists Professor Andrew Easton and Professor Nigel Dimmock.

The candidate is at a late-pre-clinical development stage: with in vivo data showing the immunotherapy asset targets pan-respiratory virus infections, which could include influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), SARS-CoV-2 and others.

Helping at risk patients

Administered intra-nasally, the RNA-based immunotherapy works by triggering nasal cells into an antiviral state to protect from the infecting virus.

At the same time, it blocks the cells from making more virus by directly preventing its replication.

Both modes of action combined can reduce infectious viral loads and improve disease symptoms, according to Poolbeg. Furthermore, as a nasally administered and fast-acting prophylactic antiviral candidate, it could potentially provide an effective solution for protecting at risk patient populations (such as the elderly, COPD patients, and asthmatics).

New business model to target infectious diseases market

Respiratory virus infections are considered a top five global killer resulting in more than three million annual deaths worldwide. Most available drugs are typically pathogen specific. Around 85% of illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses cannot be adequately treated and the emergence of resistance is also a major concern. 

Having been formed in 2021 with the ambition to build a leading infectious diseases company, the company raised £25m ($34m) at its IPO in July.

Eying up a market set to exceed $250bn by 2025, its model is to in-licence infectious disease products through lower cost Phase 1b and 2a studies, then licence or sell to larger companies for later stage trials.

Poolbeg’s lead candidate is a Phase II-ready treatment (p38 MAP Kinase inhibitor) that reduces harmful inflammation (cytokine storm) in patients with severe influenza. It targets the host immune response, rather than the virus itself, meaning it is therefore unaffected by viral strain or variants.

In December, it also in-licensed a melioidosis vaccine candidate (MelioVac) from University College Dublin, while it has also gained an exclusive licence to an oral vaccine delivery platform.

Commenting on the in-licencing of POLB 002, Jeremy Skillington, PhD, CEO of Poolbeg Pharma, said: “This dual action immunotherapy developed by the team at University of Warwick is a really exciting technology in the field of respiratory virus disease treatments. The data shows it to rapidly reduce viral load and also prevent the likelihood of virus resistance.

“It will be an excellent addition to our growing pipeline of assets and we plan to move rapidly towards human proof-of-concept studies using our capital light clinical model. We look forward to updating the market as POLB 002 progresses through the clinic with the ultimate aim of partnering it with Big Pharma.”

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