EU team develops new Alzheimer’s vaccine from Austria

A recently approved project of the sixth EU Framework Programme MimoVax is focussing on a new target for an Alzheimer's vaccine. The project, coordinated by the Austrian company Affiris GmbH, centres on the use of immune reactions to combat previously overlooked forms of the beta-amyloid that cause Alzheimer's disease. It is being run by seven partner organisations from three countries and has received an exceptionally positive response from Brussels as well as Euro 2.4 million in financial support.

The signing of the contract yesterday signalled the start of the active phase of the EU MimoVax project. The project is part of the sixth EU Framework Programme and is seeking to develop an Alzheimer's vaccine that targets specific types of beta-amyloid, the causative agent of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Frank Mattner, Project Manager and CSO of Affiris GmbH, explains, "Alzheimer's is caused by deposits of beta-amyloid peptides. These deposits also known as plaques are formed when parts of a human protein detach from the cell membrane of nerve cells and clump together. A high proportion of these peptides, the so called beta-amyloids, consist of 40 or 42 amino acids. The first vaccine developed by Affiris targets precisely these types of peptides and helps to break down the plaques." MimoVax is now pursuing an additional strategy. The project aims to investigate whether an immune reaction can also be induced against other, rarer, forms of beta-amyloid. Indeed, not all peptides in the plaques consist of 40 or 42 amino acids. Mechanical stress or enzymes can cause some amino acids to break down or can alter their chemical composition. Although these modified peptides are also a suitable point of attack for novel treatment strategies, no relevant development programme has been started to date. MimoVax is now changing this. It was a technology from Affiris GmbH that proved decisive in securing approval for the project. This technology enables scientists to get round a key problem posed by vaccines against degenerated human proteins such as beta-amyloid the development of autoimmune reaction. By carefully selecting the correct peptides for the vaccine, Affiris GmbH's mimotope technology enables a precise immune reaction to be implemented against only the degenerated form of the protein, and for this to be done without attacking the natural form. This principle has already been proven in the first vaccine developed by Affiris. Frank Mattner continues, "The exceptional approval rating the Framework Programme's panel of independent experts gave the MimoVax project 29 out of a possible 30 points is, of course, also a great vote of confidence in Affiris' mimotope technology. And, actually, MIG-Fonds in Germany have already invested in this Affiris technology, thereby enabling us to reach the current stage of development for our first Alzheimer's vaccine. This will be used on the first patients in the coming months. Overall, this broad financial support demonstrates wide-ranging confidence in the use of mimotope technology as an efficient strategy for vaccinating against human rogue proteins." During the MimoVax project, both pre-clinical and the first clinical phases of development for the new vaccine will be carried out over the next three years. Throughout the project, Affiris will be coordinating a group of partners from Austria, Germany and Spain comprising three other industrial companies, two university institutes and a clinic. 20 scientists are working together in this group and will be meeting in Vienna for their first working conference as early as October.