June 19, 2012
“If more vaccines could be kept usable without refrigeration, would more people in developing countries get vaccinated? Probably. That’s the motivating force at Vaxess, which plans to use a protein found in silk, fibroin, to preserve vaccines on a thin film strip so that they don’t require refrigeration.
Most vaccines are unstable, meaning they will degrade and lose their effectiveness unless refrigerated, says Katherine Kosuda, a postdoctoral research fellow in Harvard’s chemistry department and one of the Vaxess’s seven team members. “Ninety-eight percent of them have to be stored between 35 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit, which poses a pretty big challenge in parts of the world where there isn’t the infrastructure for cold storage,” she said.
Team member Livio Valenti, a student at Harvard’s Kennedy School, had worked for the United Nations in Cambodia before coming to Harvard. One of his interests was in exploring new export markets for Cambodian silk, which led him to professors at Tufts who had been developing the Vaxess approach to stabilizing vaccines using silk protein. The team is in the midst of negotiating a technology license with Tufts.
Eliminating the need for cold storage would help bring down the cost of vaccinations by simplifying distribution, and could increase access. “Global coverage of vaccines like hepatitis B is about 75 percent, and it has plateaued there,” says Michael Schrader, a Harvard Business School student finishing his studies this spring. “We’ve gotten to those parts of the world that are easily accessible, and the question is, how do you cover the last 25 percent?”
The Vaxess vaccines have yet to be tested in animals. But the team is planning to spend the summer talking to pharmaceutical companies, nonprofits, and government agencies about partnerships — and looking for raise money for its venture.”