New startup to research novel cancer vaccines

UniServices and the University of Auckland are partnering with an American drug development company to launch a biotech start-up that will research novel cancer vaccines.

The new start-up, SapVax was formed by scientists from the University of Auckland and BioMotiv, an accelerator company in Cleveland, Ohio, that is part of a $300 million initiative for advancing medicine called The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development.

SapVax will develop a suite of first-in-class cancer vaccines based on a novel peptide platform technology.

It is based on intellectual property licensed from the University of Auckland, developed by Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble and Dr Geoff Williams in Chemistry, and Professor Rod Dunbar, a physician-scientist, in the School of Biological Sciences. 

All of the academic scientists will continue to be involved in the clinical development of the platform.

“The Auckland team’s discoveries present a novel platform for overcoming traditional barriers to developing cancer vaccines,” says Baiju R. Shah, Chief Executive Officer of BioMotiv. “We look forward to accelerating their work into breakthrough therapies through SapVax.”

“We are delighted to be partnering with BioMotiv to launch SapVax and develop this exciting new platform into clinical candidates, to further the exciting promise of cancer immunotherapy”, says Will Charles, the General Manager of Technology Development at UniServices (the University of Auckland’s commercialisation company).

“Our partnership demonstrates the value of University seed funds that can invest early and quickly to rapidly make inventions ready for further follow-on investment and partnering.”

SapVax has a pipeline of similar vaccines in development with lead vaccines targeting a key antigen expressed in a broad range of cancers and Epstein-Barr virus proteins strongly associated with certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer, lymphoma, and gastric cancer.

The research was funded by the Maurice Wilkins Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Auckland.

Auckland UniServices managed the transitional and early preclinical research program, which was supported by the University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund and the New Zealand government’s Pre-Seed Accelerator Fund. 

The University of Auckland, represented by UniServices, was advised on the funding and licensing transaction by Innovator Capital, the London based, life sciences and sustainable technology specialist investment bank.


BioMotiv is the mission-driven accelerator associated with The Harrington Project for Discovery and Development, a $300 million initiative for advancing medicine centered at University Hospitals in Cleveland. The focus is to accelerate breakthrough discoveries from research institutions into therapeutics for patients through an innovative model that efficiently aligns capital and collaborations. For more information, go to