Flu shots don’t always prevent the flu. Janet Skidmore, spokesperson for Cranbury-based biotech VaxInnate, explains why. “Every year, doctors at the CDC have to figure out which strains will be predominant,” she says. “It’s like looking into a crystal ball. Sometimes they’re good at it, and sometimes they miss completely. Last year the vaccine was only 40 percent effective.”
The process does not allow for second chances. The vaccines are incubated in chicken eggs, a process that takes six to nine months. If they don’t include flu strains that are predominant in the year for which they are developed, there is no time to make more batches. This is not good in a normal year, but could be devastating should a flu pandemic break out.
Skidmore says that a pandemic will break out. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” she says.
A better way to develop flu vaccines is therefore imperative, and VaxInnate, a six-year-old privately held company, is working to make this happen. In a new development, VaxInnate has just announced a partnership with 3M through which vaccine that it is developing by using bacteria — rather than eggs — will be combined with patches to be made by 3M. Patches are already being used to deliver contraceptives, smoking cessation medicines, and sea sickness remedies, Skidmore points out, and could well be a quick, easy way to pass out flu vaccines quickly.
VaxInnate’s flu vaccine is now in the human testing phase, and could be ready for market within several years.
VaxInnate’s focus is on developing novel, proprietary vaccines for both pandemic and seasonal influenza. The company was founded by Ruslan Medzhitov and Richard Flavell, both of Yale University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The company started in 2002 with a research team in New Haven, Connecticut, where it still maintains a laboratory. It later added a 30,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Cranbury, where it now has approximately 58 employees, most of them involved in research and development.
VaxInnate has raised more than $64 million to date from a number of venture capital firms, including HealthCare Ventures, Oxford Bioscience Partners LLC, MedImmune Ventures, Inc., CHL Medical Partners, New Leaf Venture Partners, and Canaan Partners.
VaxInnate, 3 Cedar Brook Drive, Cedar Brook Corporate Center, Cranbury 08512; 609-860-2260; fax, 609-860-2290. Alan Shaw, CEO. www.vaxinnate.com.