Merck taps Vaxxas for Nanopatch vaccine delivery

Vaxxas' Nanopatch is approximately 1 cm2 and is shown here magnified next to the tip of a conventional needle--Image courtesy of Vaxxas

Drug giant Merck ($MRK) will team up with Australia's Vaxxas to research the startup's drug-delivery patch that targets vaccine to immunological cells just below the skin's surface.

The agreement lands Vaxxas an undisclosed upfront payment and funding to conduct research evaluating the potential use of the company's Nanopatch platform for a Merck vaccine candidate, with the option to expand the alliance to up to two more vaccines. The startup can also snag milestone payments along the way.

The Nanopatch offers a pain-free way to deliver vaccines safely and effectively to patients. The delivery system uses tiny silicon devices to get vaccine just under the skin's surface, using as little as 1/100th of the dose required by the typical needle and syringe. Vaxxas says preclinical studies show robust immune system response, which could reduce or eliminate the need for vaccine additives such as adjuvants. And a dry-coating of vaccine to the Nanopatch might snuff out the demand for refrigeration during storage and transportation--a major consideration when it comes to the sometimes problematic cold chain.  

A match-up with Merck is no small thing, either--the Big Pharma company produces 6 of the world's 20 best-selling vaccines, according to data from EvaluatePharma.  

In the coming weeks, Vaxxas plans to open a corporate office in biotech hub Cambridge, MA, CEO David Hoey told FierceBiotech. Cambridge-based VC group HealthCare Ventures and Australia's OneVentures, Brandon Capital and Medical Research Commercialisation Fund backed Vaxxas in an AU$15 million Series A round last summer.

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Special Report: 20 Top-selling Vaccines -- H1 2012

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