Ronald Kempers and the potential of a new COVID-19 nasal vaccine
Interview with Ronald Kempers, CEO at Mymetics
Everybody has become an expert in vaccines at the end of 2020. Biopôle met Ronald Kempers, CEO of Mymetics Corporation, to talk about their work on a new vaccine easy to store and accessible to all.
What are you working on at the moment?
Mymetics focuses on researching and developing vaccines for infectious diseases and immunotherapies to fight cancer and allergies. Our core technology and the bulk of our expertise lie in using virosomes for vaccines. Virosomes are lipid-based carriers that contain functional fusion viral proteins and natural membrane proteins in combination with rationally designed antigens. Our vaccines focus on the mucosal and serum immune response as a means of providing protection against early transmission and infection. Since April 2020, we’ve been working on a virosome-based vaccine for COVID-19.
What’s your solution?
We’re aiming to develop a safe and highly effective COVID-19 vaccine. The idea is that it could be easily administered to all age groups, but in particular immunocompromised and elderly patients. The key thing that sets our work apart if that our vaccine is nasal. As well as systemic immunity, we want to elicit respiratory immunity through a local memory mucosal immune response. This is where standard intramuscular vaccination isn’t usually very effective. We’re aiming to induce mucosal neutralising antibodies and T cells as a front-line defence against COVID-19, the idea being to block aerosol transmission and nasal infection before the virus gets to the lungs, brain and other organs.
Right now, we’re partnering with leading academic institutions – such as Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, the Amsterdam Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam, the Department of Pneumology at Bern University Hospital and the Department of Biomedical Research (DBMR) at the University of Bern – to explore and pick out the best COVID-19 antigens incorporated into virosome particles. At the same time, we’re working on the best possible route of administration and on thermostability. Then we’ll move on to human clinical trials.
Mymetics has already amassed a great deal of experience developing and researching thermostable nasal vaccine candidates, and we’re now drawing on that experience to develop our COVID-19 vaccine. Although other vaccines such as Pfizer/BioNTech’s and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines are already being approved, we firmly believe that there’s a need and a market for safe and efficacious vaccines that are easy to store, handle and administer and accessible to all.
Besides investments from our main investors, we’ve benefited from collaborations and from grants from TRANSVAC2 (a vaccine project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme) and the Swiss Innovation Agency, Innosuisse to move our Covid-19 vaccine development forward.
How far have you got with development?
We’re currently in the preclinical phase. We’re now coming to the end of two animal studies – one at Baylor College of Medicine and one at Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (a TRANSVAC2 member) – and three more are ongoing, including one at Bern University Hospital and another with Prof. T. Geiser and Dr. Amiq Gazdar at DBMR, funded by Innosuisse. These studies will enable us to select the best formulation for a vaccine based on our virosome platform – hopefully in March or April 2021, assuming all goes to plan and we raise the funds necessary for clinical development. Then we’ll move to GMP manufacturing and clinical trials in the second half of 2021.
Ronald Kempers, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer
Joined Mymetics in July 2009 as Chief Operating Officer and was appointed President and CEO of Mymetics Corporation in November 2012 while assuming as well the function of Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Kempers is a senior business leader and entrepreneur, with over 20 years of international business management, business development and finance experience with leading global corporations (Hewlett Packard, Oracle) and medical and IT start-ups. Mr. Kempers has a M.Sc. in Business Administration from the Erasmus University, Rotterdam School of Management and has continued further education with various executive courses, among which at IMD, Lausanne.