Poolbeg Pharma signs option agreement with University College Dublin for melioidosis vaccine

Posted 7 December 2021

Associate Professor Siobhán McClean (second from the right) and her team at UCD who have worked on the various vaccine candidates

Poolbeg Pharma has signed an option agreement to license MelioVac with University College Dublin, a vaccine for melioidosis invented by Associate Professor Siobhán McClean through NovaUCD, the University’s innovation hub.

Melioidosis, also known as Whitmore’s disease, is an infectious disease of interest due to its rising incidence around the world and its spread to non-tropical areas.

Currently there is no approved vaccine available for the disease – which is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei, commonly found in the soil and surface groundwater of many tropical and subtropical regions.

Incidence of the disease is widespread in South-East Asia, Northern Australia and India, with climate change having a substantial impact on the spread of the disease to new areas such as Brazil.

Often mistaken for other diseases, such as tuberculosis or more common forms of pneumonia, there are an estimated 165,000 cases of melioidosis each year, of which as many as 89,000 (54%) are estimated to be fatal.

As part of its Option Agreement with UCD, Poolbeg Pharma will continue its due diligence on MelioVac, a preclinical asset and recipient of a Wellcome Trust Award to aid its development, as well as five of other potential vaccine candidates discovered by Dr McClean and her team.

“This is a disease which presents a dangerous and underappreciated threat to human health which currently has no approved vaccine and a very high mortality rate,” said Dr Jeremy Skillington, CEO, Poolbeg Pharma.

“If we can take MelioVac through clinical development to Phase II ready, it has the potential to generate significant returns for investors in the short-term while contributing to the global response to the threat of infectious diseases with an unmet medical need. We are excited by the potential of the MelioVac opportunity along with the other vaccine candidates in the UCD portfolio.”

“We are passionate about developing a vaccine against Melioidosis. Poolbeg Pharma is a great potential partner to work with, bringing its experience of vaccine development and industry connections to our innovative science,” added Dr McClean, Head of Biochemistry at the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science.

“On the basis that a license is taken, it would be a great to see the development of MelioVac and other candidates, and contribute significantly to the world’s renewed fight against infectious diseases.”

Dr McClean completed her BSc in Biochemistry in UCD and received her PhD from Imperial College London.

Her research focuses on lung infections which led her to develop a platform technology to identify proteins that bacteria use to attach to human cells. These proteins have proved to be excellent vaccine candidates.

Dr McClean completed some of the original research to identify the antigens associated with the Melioidosis Vaccine at TU Dublin.

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)