A Central Jersey biotech got a visit from a congressman Thursday to show how federal funding is helping the company develop critical vaccine technology.
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-West Windsor) toured Cranbury-based VaxInnate Corp. to tout the need for continued federal investment in biomedical research. In February, VaxInnate was awarded a contract under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The contract, to develop seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines, is worth up to $196 million over five years.
“New Jerseyans can be proud that groundbreaking scientific research and development is taking place here in central New Jersey,” Holt said, in a press release about the event. “Continued investment in biomedical research is crucial to protecting the public from flu pandemics and potential bioterrorism threats.”
VaxInnate’s technology uses bacteria — rather than the traditional eggs or cell-culture techniques — to produce vaccines. Bacteria are faster growing than eggs and cell cultures, allowing VaxInnate to develop vaccines in a shorter time period.
“To be really prepared against a pandemic, you need to have a vaccine available within three to four months,” said Thomas Hofstaetter, VaxInnate’s president and CEO. “That’s where we come in.”
Hofstaetter said federal funding of biomedical research is critical, because small startups like his often are limited by scarce and uncertain funding. That means startups face the unpleasant choice of selling their technology to a larger company at an early stage, which means a lower return on investment, or developing a product into clinical trials that could cost millions of dollars.
“To really develop a technology platform like ours takes a few years, and during that time, you don’t really know whether it will work or will not work,” Hofstaetter said.
Debbie Hart, president of the statewide biotechnology trade association BioNJ, said VaxInnate’s BARDA contract comes at a time when money is particularly hard to find for biotech startups.
“It’s more critical now than ever before because of the lack of venture capital funding and other funding, and the difficult of the initial public offering” environment, Hart said.
He said having the government step in to provide funding during the development phase allows startups like his to survive and use their technologies to their fullest potential.
E-mail Jared Kaltwasser at email@example.com