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ConserV Bioscience grows team of vaccine specialists

November 21st 2023

ConserV Bioscience Ltd specialises in the development of vaccines against human diseases. The company was created in October 2020 as a spin out of the parent company PepTcell, so they have just celebrated their third anniversary. They have a large portfolio of vaccine candidates in different stages of development. Their most advanced product is a universal influenza vaccine which is ready to go into phase 3 clinical after demonstrating protection from influenza disease in a phase 2 study, where volunteers were vaccinated and then exposed to the flu virus whilst quarantined in a “flu hotel” in London.

Perhaps their most “out of the box” vaccine candidate is their AGS-v PLUS vaccine, which aims to protect against malaria not by targeting the pathogen, but the components in the saliva of the Anopheles mosquito that transmits the pathogen. When a female mosquito takes a blood meal, she continuously spits saliva in the skin of the host which not only causes the itchy wheals, but also helps the pathogen evade the immune response. By generating an adequate immune response to the saliva, the hope is to make it harder for the pathogen to escape the immune attack.

The team at ConserV are currently working to combine a pathogen specific malaria vaccine with their mosquito saliva specific vaccine. Following a similar approach, they are also developing vaccines against another two viruses transmitted by the bite of the Aedes mosquito: Zika and Chikungunya. These vaccines contain a combination of components from the virus and components from the saliva of Aedes mosquitoes. In this project, they are collaborating with the University of Leeds and Leuven (Belgium), and is being funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) as part of the UK Vaccine Network (UKVN), a UK Aid programme to develop vaccines for diseases with epidemic potential in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). DHSC and UKVN are also funding another one of their projects to continue the development of their pan-coronavirus vaccine collaborating with the University of Maryland in the US.

The research team at ConserV Bioscience is led by Dr Olga Pleguezuelos, an immunologist with over 25 years of research experience. Born in Spain, she obtained a BSc in Biology at the University of Barcelona and shortly after moved to Scotland to obtain a PhD in Immunology from Aberdeen University. Her postdoctoral years were shared between Newcastle University and Queen Mary University in London, where she researched the role of oral immunology in infection and cancer. She joined ConserV’s parent company, PepTcell, in 2007 as a research scientist and she is now in the role of Chief Scientific Officer at ConserV. She has extensive experience in vaccine development and preclinical and clinical testing, having taken three vaccines all the way from proof of concept to preclinical and clinical trials. In her spare time, Olga enjoys long walks with her dog, riding her motorbike, abstract painting, and spending time with her family.

After successfully being awarded four research grants in 2023, ConserV bioscience has expanded the research team with the addition of two brilliant and talented research scientists, Dr Siân Jossi and Dr Megan Cole.

Siân is originally from Kent but moved to the Midlands for her PhD and postdoc at the University of Birmingham. Her expertise lies in immunological assays and molecular biology, generally in the field of infectious disease. She loves hands-on lab work and getting stuck in into a new project, so the very varied work at ConserV suits her perfectly. Her favourite part of the job is getting to work with her lovely team, and her least favourite part is cleaning out virkon. In her spare time, she likes to draw, read and (when it briefly stops raining) cycle and hike.

Megan studied Biochemistry at Cardiff University. During her degree she took a year out to work in a Malaria research group where her interest in mosquito borne diseases started. After graduating, she expanded her immunological skills whilst working as a research technician investigating the immune responses to influenza vaccination in children and people living with HIV. Megan then returned to her passion and during her PhD at the University of Edinburgh she investigated how the interactions between the virus, the host, and the midge vector can affect infection by the Bluetongue virus in livestock. Megan is very interested in understanding the immunology of diseases transmitted by vectors such as mosquitoes, which attracted her to join ConserV. When not at work, Megan loves hiking, travelling, and relaxing doing crafts like sewing.

“We are delighted to be back at Heyford as this is where our parent company Peptcell started back in 2003 before relocating to London. I live in Bicester, so having a science innovation centre at our doorstep is a luxury! Heyford Park Innovation Centre has allowed us to grow at our own pace providing the necessary affordable laboratory and office space. The centre is located in a quiet beautiful rural area, with plenty of parking and local amenities, whilst still being close to main commuting roads. The centre provides start-up companies with essential services such as 9-5pm reception, phone and superfast Wi-Fi, parcel collection, but also monthly science meetings followed by lunch and monthly coffee mornings, where all the clients have a chance to meet and share experiences. HPIC also offers business support services delivered by Wendy Tindsley, who regularly sends us links to interesting meetings or events, and has put us in contact with potential investors”.

“Heyford Park Innovation Centre is ideal for start-up companies that already own all the office and laboratory equipment required for their work and need a place to call home. The centre also provides additional chargeable services such as provision of CO2, clinical waste collection, and lab coat laundry, all of which would be too costly for a single company to afford”.

“As a small company, the biggest challenge is always funding. We have been fortunate this year receiving four grants, but this never ends as we need to start thinking of applying for the next round of public funding or attracting private investment”.

“There has been many times of celebration for the staff at ConserV and its parent company, such as receiving confirmation of funding awards, unblinding clinical data to discover that the vaccine works is effective, or simply going to the pharmacy with your child and seeing that one of the products you worked on (Flarin), that helps people alleviate chronic pain, is on the shelf and watching the pride on your child’s face when you tell him that you made that medicine”.

“Working in commercial science is hard and competitive, but it is also exciting and rewarding, and you feel that the end point of your research is not simply to get a publication in a high impact journal, but to create a new therapy that will help many with the health and financial burden of diseases such as flu, coronavirus, malaria, HIV, etc”.

“The best advice we could offer to a new start-up company is to be careful with your funding, look for refurbished equipment, ask for discounts to every supplier, but most importantly, invest in people as they are the heart of your company”.

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