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Agenus wins $1m grant from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop green vaccine component

By Paul Brackley

Agenus, the biotech company with a base on Cambridge Science Park, has been granted $1million by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help it develop a consistent, environmentally-friendly method of producing its vaccine component.

The US immuno-oncology company, headquartered in Lexington, Massachusetts, produces a proprietary adjuvant called QS-21 Stimulon that is a key part of multiple vaccines targeting diseases including shingles, malaria and cancer.

But QS-21 is currently extracted from Chilean soap bark trees, exclusively sourced from a localised area in Chile.

The grant will help Agenus develop an alternative, plant cell culture-based manufacturing process, in partnership with Phyton Biotech, a Canada and Germany-based company that applies green chemistry to the production of phytochemicals.

"We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in our efforts to revolutionize the way we produce QS-21," said Dr Garo Armen, chairman and CEO of Agenus. "The Gates Foundation has recognised the value of consistent supply of high-quality QS-21 to power vaccines. We appreciate their commitment to bringing innovation to drive access to important therapies."

QS-21 is used in GlaxoSmithKline’s Shingrix vaccine against shingles and its Mosquirix vaccine against malaria, along with numerous other clinical-stage vaccines, including Agenus’ own cancer vaccines.

In December, Agenus announced a partnership with Gilead Sciences to develop and commercialise up to five novel immuno-oncology therapies.

Agenus is to receive $150million, which includes a $120million upfront cash payment and a $30 million equity investment. The agreement also includes approximately $1.7 billion in potential future fees and milestones.


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