Frederic Garzoni is the Director and Co-founder of Imophoron, an innovative vaccine technology start-up that joined Unit DX in December. He moved to the UK only a month before via a Future Talent and Mobility Award from the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), having co-founded the business with Imre Berger, a professor at the University of Bristol and Director of the BrisSynBio centre.
Anna Fleming sat down with him to discuss their core technology and what makes Imophoron stand out in the fast-moving and competitive vaccine field.
For people who don’t know the company, can you outline what Imophoron does?
Our work is based on a disruptive new nature-inspired scaffold, called the ADDomer. It’s derived from a component of human Adenovirus, which spontaneously forms the ADDomer, a very stable superparticle. We are using synthetic biology techniques to develop this scaffold into a versatile platform, which turned out to be extremely useful for developing new vaccines.
What are the advantages of ADDomer over traditional vaccine technology?
Well, we have worked with it extensively, so we’re familiar with its properties. We know its structure from Cryo-EM (cryo-electron microscopy), meaning we can virtually, rationally and easily design vaccines. Importantly, we have a powerful recombinant protocol to make ADDomer, so we can produce large quantities. We can also engineer one product to target multiple diseases. Currently, if you holiday somewhere tropical, you might need several shots to vaccinate against various local diseases; with ADDomer one vaccine – one shot – could target multiple diseases.
Some vaccines use ‘live attenuated’ technologies – a live virus that’s been inactivated (often by heating) to reduce its virulence. They contain real viruses that can, occasionally, reactivate. ADDomer, however, is completely synthetic; it has no genetic material, so it can’t reactivate.
Another advantage is that our vaccine would be adjuvant free. We’re seeing more and more people refusing vaccination due to ingredients in the adjuvant, and we’re seeing diseases that were practically eradicated, like measles, returning thanks to this attitude. With ADDomer, the scaffold itself acts as an adjuvant, so we don’t need additives that people might fear.
A big advantage of ADDomer is its amazing stability – it can be stored at room temperature or as powder, meaning ADDomer-based injections don’t rely on a cold-chain.
For those unfamiliar with vaccine terminology, what’s a cold-chain?
When transporting most vaccines from manufacturer to patient, they must remain cold throughout the journey. WHO (World Health Organisation) studies show that huge numbers of doses are lost because the cold-chain doesn’t work, or people forget to refrigerate. When targeting diseases in countries without the infrastructure to maintain the cold-chain, the stability of ADDomer is very advantageous.
Was there a sudden eureka moment for you or did the idea evolve gradually?
It was a click – we were chatting in the corridor about Adenovirus and this component. I remember a colleague mentioning that he had left a sample in his lab coat pocket. Months later when he rediscovered it, it was still OK and hadn’t fallen apart. We knew we were onto something – it was clearly stable, we knew we could make lots of it, and we had a plan for engineering the particle into a vaccine.
Can you give me some idea of what you’ve done so far?
I arrived here in Bristol (from France) in November, via a Future Talent and Mobility Award from the BBSRC. In the same month, we received a grant from the EPSRC and were invited to join the innovative new Future Vaccines Manufacturing Hub A month later, in December, we joined Unit DX. We already have proof of concept in human infectious diseases (targeting Chikungunya), and in onco-immunology (targeting melanoma).
And what about the future? Where are you planning to go from here?
Recently we were approached about developing vaccines against livestock diseases, and we’re now working on various animal vaccines. And obviously, we’re always working to improve our core technology, the ADDomer.
You’ve come so far in such a short time! Is there a secret to your success?
The support from BrisSynBio was very important, particularly from Andy Boyce, Kathleen Sedgley and Imre. They directed me to suitable grants, helped me with writing them, managing them, and have provided me with access to facilities and events, all of which has been very valuable.
Unit DX has been an incredible asset, as well as the other BrisSynBio start-ups – such as Cytoseek, who have made a big difference. We help each other, I can see what they’ve done before, and they let me know all of the do’s and don’ts.
In the Science Behind the Technology series, we get under the bonnet of Bristol’s latest scientific companies. Find out from the founders how the discoveries came about, and what these new start-ups are doing with their breakthroughs to bring life-changing products to market.
For more information on Imophoron’s technology, please email email@example.com.