The approval of MedImmune's nasally-administered FluMist in 2003 was the first major advance in the delivery of influenza vaccines since immunization against the flu began in 1945. This week Vaxart raised $20 million to bring about the next step forward--vaccines in tablet form.
San Francisco-based biotech Vaxart began developing oral vaccines in 2004, and the company has advanced candidates for H1N1 seasonal flu and H5N1 avian influenza into Phase I trials. Having published positive data from the H5N1 trial in Vaccine earlier this year, Vaxart has raised $20 million in a Series C round. No investors are named in the Securities and Exchange Commission filing, but two partners at Care Capital and the managing director of Finney Capital are listed as directors, the San Francisco Business Times notes.
Care Capital contributed to a $12.5 million Series B financing round in 2010 and is named as the primary outside investor on Vaxart's website. Finney Capital, meanwhile, is run by the former acting CEO of Vaxart, Michael Finney. Both investment groups were attracted by a technology that, if successful, would change visits to the doctors for a flu vaccination. Instead of receiving the vaccine as an injection, people would simply swallow a tablet.
The delivery method is underpinned by a non-replicating adenovirus vector type 5 (Ad5) and an adjuvant. Adenoviruses have been tested as vectors for vaccines to prevent a range of diseases, such as malaria and HIV, but undesirable immune responses have limited their use. Vaxart thinks it can avoid these problems by using an adjuvant to enable delivery into the gut, which that lacks the anti-vector immunity that scuppered injected adenoviruses projects.
Producing a vaccine this way bypasses some of the time-consuming steps used to manufacture an injectable. In a 2009 case study, Vaxart produced a H1N1 vaccine within 17 days of receiving the genetic information. Earlier this year it delivered one for H7N9 in a similar period of time.