VBI Progressing with Vaccines That Don’t Require Refrigeration

3/24/11

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be effective. VBI’s technology is designed to keep vaccine antigens stable inside separate particles during swings in temperature.

Baxter, a former managing partner of a Bay Area venture firm called The Column Group, took over as CEO of VBI in September 2009. Shortly after he took the helm at the startup, the biotech company initiated its lead vaccine program for seasonal flu. In addition to its injected flu vaccine, the firm is researching formulations of vaccines for flu and Shigella, which can be taken orally, not through an injection. Its other vaccine programs include ones for hepatitis A and cytomegalovirus, which can be passed from pregnant women to fetuses and cause birth defects.

The firm has developed way of entrapping vaccine antigens inside of liposomal-based particles. Baxter described the technology in simple terms as like a “soap bubble” that protects antigens from heat exposure. His firm says that its flu vaccine remains stable after up to a year of storage at the relatively hot temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (or 40 degrees Celsius). The company has also shown that its vaccine formulation can be frozen and thawed multiple times and remain effective.

Based on the firm’s early promise, VBI raised a Series A round of $35.7 million in January 2007 from a syndicate of venture backers that included 5AM Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, and Clarus Ventures. Baxter says that a condition of the financing was for the company to establish an office in the Boston area, where lead investor Clarus of Cambridge is headquartered. Yet the company has kept its research operations and most of its employees in Ottawa.  VBI is now planning to raise a Series B round of venture capital in the middle of this year, Baxter says.

Given the high costs of vaccine development, Baxter sees the quickest route to the market through a partnership with an existing vaccine manufacturer. While he didn’t have anything to report on that front, he mentioned that his firm has had discussions with all of the major vaccine players. (In fact, Baxter used to work for one of the largest vaccine producers, GlaxoSmithKline, where he held multiple jobs and finished his time at the London-based drug company as senior vice president of R&D finance and operations).

According to Baxter, companies have had trouble commercializing vaccines that don’t require refrigeration because their technologies require re-engineering how vaccine antigens are manufactured. That can be expensive. VBI, on the other hand, can apply its technology to existing vaccines that are “off the shelf,” Baxter says, so their technology wouldn’t require investments in altering antigen production, he says.

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