When Virionyx, a New Zealand biotechnology company, tested a new anthrax vaccine, company scientists were elated when it worked, but then dumbfounded when one of the negative control agents compared to the vaccine also provided an unexpected level of protection against the bacterial toxin. That finding has led rapidly to a breakthrough that could help protect against a wide range of infectious diseases and possibly fight certain cancers.

The control agent consisted of a novel microparticle that Virionyx was developing as a potent adjuvant, that portion of a vaccine that amplifies the antibody immune response to the small amount of immunogen used in vaccinations. Virionyx researchers had designed the microparticle for “targeted delivery” – the specific delivery of an attached immunogen payload to the right cell populations in the immune system to induce a strong humoral, or antibody, response. The breakthrough came when they characterized the stand-alone use of the microparticle as strongly amplifying the protective power of the innate immune response. According to recent patent application filings and other data, the company’s microparticle immune stimulator (MIS) has demonstrated abilities to protect against anthrax toxins and bubonic plague, has inhibited HIV infection and has switched on potent cancer cell killing mechanisms within the immune system.

“The human immune system protects against harmful invaders using layered defenses,” said Gill Webster, PhD, Virionyx’s chief scientific officer. “These range from physical barriers, like our skin, to different types of immune cells that directly destroy virus-infected cells or bacteria, to antibodies that recognize and attack any invaders that escape these first lines of defense. The master controller of these multi-layered defenses is the innate wing of the human immune response.”

The Virionyx MIS is composed of bacterial-derived multiple immunostimulatory ligands crosslinked to form a safe, stable, and synergistic microparticle. While other researchers have been studying distinct attributes of immune stimulating agents for vaccine use, such as size, particulate structure, and varying signaling pathway triggers such as TLRs and NODs (Toll-like receptors and nucleotide-binding oligomerization domains), MIS combines the key features of all these approaches into one agent. The platform can be customized if required by removing or adding triggers (ligands) to achieve additional immune pathway signaling.

“We need to move this unique and exciting platform up in to the US market as quickly as possible,” said Virionyx’s New Zealand-based CEO, Simon Wilkinson. “While we would love to carry on development down here at the southern end of the world, the reality is that MIS is a strong candidate to treat a range of important diseases and the funding and expertise to run multiple clinical programs is in the United States.” Programs in multiple oncology areas, hepatitis B and C, HIV, and vaccine development are ready for partnering, and additional programs will be announced at the upcoming BIO meeting in San Diego in June.


Virionyx (http://www.virionyx.com) is a New Zealand-based public, but unlisted biopharmaceutical development company. The company was formed in 2000 to commercialize science brought to New Zealand by US scientist Dr. Frank Gelder, PhD, dip ABHI. The company’s 1660 shareholders, including 75 US-based investors owning approximately 23% of the company, have invested $35 million to date.

The company is developing products using two distinct product development platforms:

1) A proprietary microparticle comprising multiple pathogen-associated molecular pattern-recognition receptors to induce safe, potent and synergistic stimulation and/or modulation of innate and adaptive immunity to potentially treat a range of indications.

2) Leveraging New Zealand’s unique livestock disease-free status to produce passive immunotherapeutics derived from caprine (goat) polyclonal antibodies to treat a range of life-threatening infectious and/or toxin-based diseases.

Virionyx has one passive immunotherapeutic US-based Phase 2 clinical program underway to treat AIDS (failing therapy population) and preclinical programs in multiple indications including oncology, antiviral, antibacterial, and vaccine development.

Simon Wilkinson, CEO, +64 21 661 850
Kureczka/Martin Associates
Joan Kureczka, 415-821-2413