A biotech out of Oxford is developing a vaccine to fight every type of flu

  • Oxford University spin-out company Vaccitech is working on a universal flu vaccine.
  • The company says the vaccine takes a novel approach.

A biotech spun out of Oxford University is aiming to develop a universal flu vaccine — and phase 2 trials could be completed by the end of next year.

The company, Vaccitech, says the vaccine — unlike those now found on the market — does not target surface antibodies. Instead, it works from the center of the virus where there are few components which can change the virus strain.

"It should protect people against pandemic strains and that would be hugely valuable to have," Vaccitech co-founder Adrian Hill told CNBC on Friday.

The company's approach to the flu is different from what many vaccine manufacturers have adopted, Hill said, adding that he hopes any Vaccitech success will make pharmaceutical giants take an interest and get involved.

Vaccitech's strategy has not been tested to work against the flu before, but Hill said his company has started trials involving thousands of people.

The tests mark one of the first times that a universal flu vaccine has progressed beyond phase 1 clinical testing and Vaccitech aims to complete phase 2B testing by the end of next year, he said.

An Indian mother and son wear masks as they stand in a queue at The Government Chest Hospital in Hyderabad on August 11, 2009.
Noah Seelam | AFP | Getty Images
An Indian mother and son wear masks as they stand in a queue at The Government Chest Hospital in Hyderabad on August 11, 2009.

Recently, the biotech start-up raised 20 million pounds (about $28 million) from investors including GV, the venture capital arm of Google parent Alphabet.

Vaccitech is also targeting two viruses that cause cancer — the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the hepatitis B virus.

"We are developing new vaccines again targeting cellular immunity that will go into the clinic in the next year or so to tackle those virus," Hill said.

HPV is known to cause cervical cancer and the hepatitis B virus infects hundreds of millions of people in Asia alone and is a major cause of liver cancer.

"If the cellular immunity approach works, there are a lot of potential targets," Hill said. "There are infections like HIV, where you can make a therapeutic HIV vaccine."

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the state of testing on other universal flu vaccines.