Vaxxas is on a quest to achieve the holy grail of the vaccine industry – a pain free way to deliver vaccines without needles and syringes.
Vaxxas was formed in August 2011 by a $15-million syndicate of venture capital funds to commercialise the Nanopatch, which was invented in 2004 by Professor Mark Kendall from the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).
The Nanopatch is a silicon patch with thousands of small projections that are designed to hit abundant immune cells in the skin. A vaccine is coated onto the Nanopatch which should be more effective than vaccines delivered via needles. Tests in animals have confirmed improved immune responses compared to standard needle and syringe injection.
While many people no doubt look forward to the day that vaccinations are pain-free, for the developing world Vaxxas’ Nanopatch could have substantial public health benefits. It removes the risk of needle-stick injuries, cross contamination and is expected to remove the need for refrigeration – making transport much easier and cheaper.
Vaxxas Chairman, and OneVentures partner, Dr Paul Kelly, says the $15 million investment is one of the largest in a start-up biotechnology company in Australia, and would help Professor Kendall and his team take their pioneering research out of the laboratory and into the market.
OneVentures is the lead investor in the syndicate, which also includes Brandon Capital Partners, and the Medical Research Commercialisation Fund (MRCF). All three fund managers are licensed under the Australian Government’s Innovation Investment Fund. US-based HealthCare Ventures is another investor.
OneVentures is also registered as an Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnership (ESVCLP), which provides tax benefits for funds with assets of up to $50 million. Brandon and MRCF benefit from being registered under a similar program - the Venture Capital Limited Partnership (VCLP) – which is for funds with assets of up to $250 million.
“One of the benefits of the quantum of funds raised is that Professor Kendall and his team will be able to spend their time doing what they are best at – developing the Nanopatch - without having to worry about raising the necessary finance to achieve key milestones,” Paul said.
“There are significant technical hurdles that need to be overcome, including ensuring the technology can be scaled for manufacture and is able to be reliably produced to clinical standards in the millions. We also need to follow the well-articulated path to regulatory approval, and of course, ensure the Nanopatch works in humans.
“We are planning to begin human trials of the Nanopatch by mid 2014.”
The research team at AIBN is being expanded, with 11 people hired so far, including the strategic recruitment of a senior vice president of R&D from the United Kingdom.
He said that as well as providing an important injection of capital, the Australian Government’s IIF support helped OneVentures attract investors, who were encouraged by the Government’s support.
“OneVentures is unusual because the bulk of its investors are private individuals, rather than institutional investors. Being registered as an ESVCLP was attractive for these investors because of the tax benefits this program offers,” he said.
In 2012, the Vaxxas syndicate was judged the Best Venture Capital Investment at the Vaccine Industry Excellence Awards, held in Washington DC. The judging criteria for the award included the structure of the syndicate, how innovative the investment model was and what impact the investing company has on the business.
As well as providing much-needed capital, the venture capital fund managers are providing Professor Kendall and his team with expertise, networks and experience in building high-growth, global companies, especially in the United States’ pharmaceutical industry.
Participating in the syndicate is the MRCF, which is a unique collaboration that includes 32 members from Australian medical research institutes and allied research hospitals, including the AIBN. As well as investment from the IIF, the fund is supported by AustralianSuper, StatewideSuper and the state governments of Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland.
Brandon Capital Partners’ Director, Stephen Thompson, said the MRCF was a unique collaboration where the member research institutions are directly engaged in evaluating research suitable for commercialisation.
“The MRCF brings together medical institutions and inventors from the beginning, working closely with them to get things into shape, ready for commercialisation,”he said.
“We were attracted to Vaxxas because of the quality of the research and the underlying data which supports it. It has a breadth of valuable commercial applications and we were drawn by the importance of the problem it solves.”