The vaccines company
The Max Planck Society and Actelion found the start-up Vaxxilon to bring carbohydrate-based vaccines to market
Sugar does not just make vaccines sweet. Some vaccines owe their effect to carbohydrates, to which sugar belongs. Vaxxilon, a company jointly founded by the Max Planck Society and the Swiss firm Actelion Ltd, will carry out research and development of these carbohydrate-based vaccines and bring them to market. The synthetic vaccines will primarily provide protection against bacterial infections. With a view to launching them on the market, Vaxxilon has acquired the exclusive rights to various preclinical vaccine candidates and methods from Max-Planck-Innovation GmbH, the Max Planck Society’s technology transfer company. The scientific basis for Vaxxilon’s business model was established by a team of scientists headed by Peter Seeberger, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam/Golm.
There is currently no effective method of combating many bacterial infections. People in developing countries, for example, cannot afford antibiotics, even if they have access to them. However, doctors are also anxiously searching for new ways of combating bacteria in industrialized nations. Some bacteria have become resistant to all or almost all antibiotics - and the situation is becoming increasingly acute. Vaxxilon could help to close the gap in the arsenal against microbes. Peter Seeberger’s Group at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces established the foundation for such solutions through its research into carbohydrate-based vaccines. “This new class of vaccines can be produced more quickly and less expensively and also offers further benefits in terms of distribution and administration, which may improve global access to vaccines,” remarks the Max Planck Director.
Vaxxilon aims to fully harness this potential. “We are extremely impressed by the work carried out by Professor Seeberger’s team,” says Jean-Paul Clozel, Managing Director and CEO of Actelion. “I am therefore delighted that Actelion can help to translate the research results into prophylactic and therapeutic options.” Actelion is the principal investor and majority shareholder in Vaxxilon, having made a funding commitment of up to 30 million euros to be released in tranches over a period of three to four years. “This investment represents an innovative way of taking advantage of synergies that exist between the worlds of research and industry,” underscores Jean-Paul Clozel. “With Vaxxilon, we are creating an opportunity to launch synthetic carbohydrate vaccines on the market within a decade.”
Peter Seeberger’s team has conducted research into and developed preclinical candidates for vaccines against various bacterial infections. Work jointly conducted by Peter Seeberger and Gennaro de Libero, a professor of medicine at the University Hospital of Basel, has also resulted in a decisive method in the development and production of new vaccines. “I am very proud the research and technical development we undertook in the Max Planck Society, together with my colleague Gennaro de Libero from the University Hospital of Basel, will now be advanced at Vaxxilon,” says Peter Seeberger. “I strongly believe that the speed and flexibility of a small company combined with Actelion’s financial backing will allow this new vaccine technology to be taken to the clinical testing stage and made available to the patients concerned quickly and efficiently.” Vaxxilon plans to carry out the first studies on humans with a new vaccine over the next three years.
Vaxxilon will be headed by Tom Monroe who has held various positions of increasing responsibility at Actelion over the past 15 years. Four accomplished chemists from Peter Seeberger’s Group will make up the initial scientific team at Vaxxilon, and additional experienced personnel are to be recruited shortly. Vaxxilon, a Swiss limited liability company, will be headquartered in Reinach, Switzerland; a research facility will be established in Berlin.
The new company’s operations will be overseen by a Board of Directors with representatives from Actelion and the Max Planck Society, including Peter Seeberger, as well as an independent member. David Stout, recently elected to the Actelion Board of Directors and former President of Pharmaceutical Operations at GlaxoSmithKline, will serve as Chairperson.
Notes to editors:
About synthetic carbohydrate vaccines 
Currently available carbohydrate conjugate vaccines are made using complex sugars (polysaccharides) which are isolated from bacteria. Automated methods to synthesize carbohydrates rapidly enable the production of innovative vaccines in the laboratory and accelerate research into effective antigens. These vaccines combine a synthetic oligosaccharide with a glycolipid CD1d ligand and could eliminate the need for a protein carrier and an immune stimulator (adjuvant).
1. Marco Cavallari et al. A semisynthetic carbohydrate-lipid vaccine that protects against S. pneumoniae in mice. Nature Chemical Biology 10,950–956(2014). DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.1650
Vaxxilon AG is dedicated to the research, development and commercialization of innovative synthetic carbohydrate-based vaccines, first and foremost to combat bacterial infections. Vaxxilon has licensed various preclinical vaccine candidates to target pathogens for which there are no approved vaccines, or for which existing vaccines do not fully meet medical needs. Vaxxilon was created in 2015 by Actelion Ltd and the Max Planck Society. The company is based on the scientific insights and innovation of Professors Peter Seeberger of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces and Gennaro de Libero of the University Hospital of Basel. For more information see www.vaxxilon.com
About the Max Planck Society
The Max Planck Society (www.mpg.de) is Germany’s leading research organization. At 83 Max Planck facilities, more than 5,500 scientists and over 7,600 doctoral students, undergraduates, student assistants and guest scientists conduct basic research in the natural sciences, life sciences and human sciences. The Max Planck Society was founded in 1948 as a successor organization to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, which was established in 1911. Eighteen Nobel Prize laureates have since emerged from its ranks. The Institutes are of international standing and attract leading researchers from all over the world. In addition to five Institutes abroad, the MPG operates a further 14 Max Planck Centers together with research institutions such as Princeton University in the US, Science Po in France, University College London in the UK and the University of Tokyo in Japan. Equally funded by the German Federal Government and Federal States, the Max Planck Society has an annual budget of 1.6 billion euros.
About Actelion Ltd.
Actelion Ltd. is a leading biopharmaceutical company focused on the research, development and commercialization of innovative drugs for rare diseases.
Actelion is a leader in the field of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). Its PAH portfolio covers the spectrum of treatments from WHO Functional Class (FC) II to FC IV with oral, inhaled and intravenous medications. Although not available in all countries, Actelion has treatments approved by health authorities for a number of specialist diseases including type 1 Gaucher disease, Niemann-Pick type C disease, digital ulcers in patients suffering from systemic sclerosis and mycosis fungoides type cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.
Founded in late-1997, Actelion now has over 2,400 dedicated professionals covering all key markets around the world, including the US, Japan, China, Russia and Mexico. Its corporate headquarters are in Allschwil/Basel, Switzerland.