Pharma

Novel vaccine development firm Agilvax seeks $2 million to fund animal tests

Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to treat diseases, believes Joe Shaw CEO of St. Paul, Minnesota-based startup Agilvax. But current technologies — and even some emerging ones — are lacking in various ways in that they take too long to develop and may not be highly immunogenic. Agilvax is attempting to change […]

Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to treat diseases, believes Joe Shaw CEO of St. Paul, Minnesota-based startup Agilvax.

But current technologies — and even some emerging ones — are lacking in various ways in that they take too long to develop and may not be highly immunogenic.

Agilvax is attempting to change the paradigm of how vaccines are developed through a technology exclusively licensed from the University of New Mexico. It aims to develop vaccines against various diseases, including the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer in women, HIV and acne. The company is currently seeking $2 million to fund animal studies.

Here’s how the technology works and is different from current technologies, as explained by Sandra Lobo, Agilvax’s chief scientific officer.

The technology is based on the so-called virus-like particles (VLP). These are viruses from whom the DNA has been removed such that they retain their external structure but have lost the ability to replicate. When a vaccine is made from VLP and is introduced in the human body, the immune system recognizes it as a virus it is supposed to fight and kicks into gear. But most companies that create vaccines from these VLPs are able to create vaccines for one indication at a time — for instance, an HPV vaccine to fight HPV alone.

Agilvax’s technology, by contrast, is a platform technology. Instead of creating VLPs from any virus for each indication at a time, it creates VLPs from a specific type of virus that infects bacteria but not humans (called RNA bacteriophage.) That helps to create vaccines that are highly immunogenic or very effective. The platform technology also helps to properly select vaccine components.

“Rather than selecting a single viral protein, we can basically develop any vaccine,” Lobo said.

She added that current vaccine development and manufacturing can take years, but Agilvax’s technology can reduce that time frame to a few months.

Shaw said that the company has raised $500,000 from board members, including Lobo and himself, and will use the additional $2 million it is seeking to conduct animal studies for testing vaccines against acne and other indications. He said that because vaccine development is expensive, he is looking to partner with top pharmaceutical companies who can invest and conduct clinical trials required for commercialization.

“We are in talks with two of the top five pharma companies,” Shaw said, adding that the top five companies are Sanofi, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.

[Photo Credit: piyaphontawong]