With Gates Foundation backing, Liquidia advances novel flu vaccine

Cost is a huge issue in the vaccine industry, especially as companies turn their focus on the developing world. While some groups have looked toward DNA vaccines, virus-like particles (VLPs) and other alternative technologies to provide vaccines efficiently, Research Triangle Park, NC-based Liquidia Technologies has turned to a key design element: the size and shape of the particles.

As Chief Medical Officer Frank Malinoski describes it, Liquidia's technology, called PRINT, creates uniform vaccine particles specific to the target illness, which leads to more effective inoculations in smaller doses. This unique approach to vaccines has caught the eye of the scientific community and global health heavyweights like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The firm's vaccine particles are run through a printing press-like machine, which molds them into the identical individual shapes that will be most effective for that vaccine's target. It's using the method to co-deliver the compounds, rather than mix the components at the time of delivery. "We're talking about just building vaccines in a different way to enhance and ensure the immune system is processing them in the most efficient way," Malinoski said in an interview with FierceVaccines.

"I think one of the things that has attracted investors to Liquidia is the uniqueness and breadth of the technology," said Kyle Chenet, vice president of corporate development, in an interview. In March, the company received $10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its work. The investment was a first of its kind from the foundation to a healthcare company.

The company has some of the same values as its deep-pocketed benefactor. "There's room in the world to help the developing world and have a profitable company," Malinoski said.

Liquidia's first product uses a commercial flu vaccine combined with a poly(lactide-co-glycolide) material, often used in sutures, and molds the particles using its technology, which was developed by Joe DeSimone of the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. The program, which is currently in a 150-patient Phase I trial, went from concept to clinic in 18 months, and the trial includes both healthy young adults and elderly individuals.

While VLPs have shown promise, Malinoski notes that vaccines harnessing them are dependent on the size and shape of the virus, which can hamper efficacy. And although liposome vaccine delivery provides more flexibility in particle sizes and shapes, there are still particle size discrepancies and limitations on the chemistry that can be done to the liposomes. But those limitations haven't been seen in Liquidia's methods, he said.

"It's a technology that is designed to mold materials and research has shown there's no limit at this point of what biological materials can be molded into very well-defined particles," Malinoski said.

Although most of the company's work is in the vaccine industry, Malinoski sees potential in the drug delivery and diagnostics fields for the PRINT platform. Liquidia continues to look for the best applications of its technology, Chenet said.