It’s the result of 20 years of research, creating the EngeneIC Dream Vector, or EDV.
EngeneIC’s joint chief executive, Dr Jennifer MacDiarmid, believes it has enormous potential.
“It is so versatile and the reason being, it’s derived from a living thing. So, it’s got potential to stimulate an immune system in its own right,” she told 9News.
And it’s this game-changing approach that drew American billionaire doctor and scientist, Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong.
The chairman of ImmunityBio invented the drug Abraxane, which is used in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
He also owns the Los Angeles Times and has a large share in tech company Zoom.
He’s now backing EngeneIC, with plans to build two large factories in Los Angeles for late-stage trials and commercial-scale production.
“What’s exciting about it is, it’s not just potential for good, it’s a whole new novel approach in how you activate the immune system,” he told 9News.
“And, more importantly, it’s an approach where you can scale at low cost.”
What he’s most excited about is EngeneIC’s unique COVID-19 vaccine. And here’s why:
The COVID-19 virus has what’s known as spike proteins — raised bumps on its surface.
Current vaccines use antibodies to target those spike proteins, but only have a few keys to latch on.
Like Velcro, Engeneic’s vaccine has many more keys, so sticky and strong it holds on no matter how much the virus mutates.
“This is the first, I believe, COVID vaccine that will use this approach,” Dr Soon-Shiong said.
“And the preliminary data, clinical data and phase one data is incredibly promising.”
In trials with six healthy patients, the EDV vaccine neutralised 95 per cent of all current COVID-19 variants.
But it hasn’t yet been tested against the newest strain — Omicron.
However, EngeneIC’s scientists are now planning to send blood samples to South Africa, where Omicron was discovered, to determine how effective it will be.
EngeneIC joint Chief Executive, Dr Himanshu Brahmbhatt, believes it will be effective.
“These high-affinity antibodies are capable of locking on in such a way that it hangs on — no matter what mutant comes along,” he said.
That’s important because the virus can only mutate so many times before it runs out of steam and disappears.
While the potential harm of Omicron is yet to be seen, Dr Soon-Shiong believes vaccines have to get ahead of the game.
“This is my greatest fear. When you give a virus an antibody, they use it as bait, especially in the immunocompromised patients,” he said.
“So, they just take these antibodies you give them and evolve. That’s what they do. So just blocking a virus with an antibody is important but, at the end of the day, futile.
“We do this for flu every year, we change the flu vaccine every year. Maybe that’s okay, but really what we want to do is kill the factory that makes those viruses.”
The other key positive of this new technology is it’s cheaper and easier to make and deliver.
“It can be freeze-dried and presented as a powder and you just add water,” Dr MacDiarmid said.
“And that means you take away all the cold chain. It can be sent out to remote spots, including to our indigenous communities.”
This was another plus for Dr Soon-Shiong.
“You need to find a vaccine that is durable, long-lasting,” he said.
“But you also, in real practical terms, need to find a vaccine you can manufacture in billions of doses at scale. And thirdly, you need to find a vaccine you can keep at room temperature.
“This checks all those boxes. You can generate trillions of these EDVs and transfer this to under-developed countries, such as in Africa.”
But EngeneIC’s technology has potential for so much more — able to fight other viruses and even the most drug-resistant cancer cells.
As Dr Brahmbhatt explained, “This little nano cell can be loaded up with very toxic drugs and it only targets cancer cells — does not touch the normal cells in the body.
“Therefore, there are no toxic side effects in our cancer patients. At the same time, it trains the immune system to be able to recognise those cancer cells and it specifically knocks it off.”
Once clinical trials are completed, the COVID-19 vaccine and other therapies could be available within a year.