In 2010, biotech entrepreneur Chip Clark was looking for a new challenge after the company he co-founded, Vanda Pharmaceuticals in Washington, DC, completed a $200 million licensing deal with Novartis. When he was offered the opportunity to join Cambridge, MA-based vaccine developer Genocea Biosciences, he jumped. “I was acutely sensitive to the notion that the regulatory and commercial environment continues to get more challenging,” Clark says. “I wanted to find true novelty—something that had a chance to be successful because it is radically new.”
Clark will discuss Genocea’s distinctive approach to vaccine development—and his role in guiding the company’s evolution—on April 4 at Xconomy Forum: New England’s Emerging Biotech Stars. The event, which will be held at Biogen Idec in Cambridge, will showcase several of the Boston area’s biotech CEOs in an afternoon of discussions about innovation, R&D, fundraising, and more.
Clark joined Genocea in August 2010 and was instrumental in helping the company secure a $35 million Series B funding round from the likes of Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., Skyline Ventures, Polaris Partners, and Morningside Ventures. He was named CEO in February 2011. The company has raised $61 million so far, which it is using to advance five vaccine programs, Clark says.
Genocea’s approach is centered around stimulating T-cells—an important component of the immune system, and one that pharmaceutical companies have been trying to crack for years. Most vaccines on the market today stimulate B-cells, which are important, but only half the battle, Clark explains. “You need both a B- and T-cell response to effectively protect against or treat an infection,” he says.
Genocea was founded on technology developed by Harvard Medical School microbiologist Darren Higgins, who figured out how to discover vaccine candidates by analyzing tissue samples from people who were exposed to pathogens but seemed to be naturally immune to them. “We can look at each person’s T-cell response to every part of the bug and say, ‘What are the differences between the people who have a protective response vs. those who have a severe infection?'” Clark says. “That’s incredibly powerful.”
Genocea’s lead compound is a therapeutic vaccine for herpes simplex 2 that is expected to begin human trials soon. The vaccine is designed as a three-shot regimen, Clark says, after which subjects will befollowed for a year. The trial is designed to prove safety, as well as to measure immunological response. Ideally, says Clark, the vaccine will reduce the frequency of flareups and prevent the so-called viral shedding that causes the disease to spread.
Genocea is also running early trials of vaccines designed to prevent herpes, pneumococcus, Chlamydia, and malaria. The company has generated about $6 million in grants, Clark says, from organizations such as the Gates Foundation, which has fully funded the pneumococcus program to date. “Because of the public health angle, we’ve been fortunate to attract grant funding,” he says.
Ultimately, Clark hopes to attract enough interest from Big Pharma to generate additional funding or a development deal. “Frankly, it’s a question of getting these companies to believe in what we have,” Clark says. “Once we have human data, we hope that will be the impetus for a transaction.”
You can hear more from Clark at New England’s Emerging Biotech Stars on April 4, starting at 1:30 at Biogen Idec in Cambridge. He’ll be joined by the CEOs of Dicerna, Adimab, Syndax, and Aileron. We’ll also have an interactive discussion on how to obtain grant funding, plus talks on innovation by Mark Levin of Third Rock Ventures, and George Scangos and Doug Williams of Biogen. There will be plenty of time for networking, too, so register today. And be sure to follow the event on Twitter, where we’ll be reporting all the action as #XCbiostars. We look forward to seeing you on April 4.