Merck taps startup from Down Under for vaccine patch

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

Merck ($MRK), one of the largest vaccine makers in the word, has formed an alliance with Vaxxas to research the startup's drug-delivery patch for one of the drug giant's vaccine candidates. The deal provides Vaxxas with a major pharma collaborator as it relocates business operations from Australia to Cambridge, MA, where new CEO David Hoey hopes to find additional partners, he told FierceBiotech in an interview.

Vaxxas, a spinoff of the University of Queensland, has bagged its first pharma deal in the agreement with Whitehouse Station, NJ-based Merck. The deal focuses on evaluating the startup's so-called Nanopatch, which uses tiny silicon devices to deliver vaccine painlessly to target cells just under the skin, using only as little as one one-hundredth of the amount of vaccine normally required, Hoey said. Merck has agreed to undisclosed upfront and research funding for the project, aiming to apply Vaxxas' skin patch to deliver an undisclosed vaccine, with the option to expand the alliance to up to two more vaccines.

Merck, the maker of the HPV vaccine Gardasil, produces 6 of the world's 20 best-selling vaccines, according to data from EvaluatePharma.

Hoey says that the deal provides his startup with a key endorsement as the company aims to raise its profile in the U.S. In the coming weeks he plans to open a corporate office for the company in Cambridge, MA, where many of the world's largest drugmakers have R&D operations. Healthcare Ventures, a VC group based in Cambridge, backed Vaxxas along with OneVentures, Brandon Capital and Medical Research Commercialisation Fund in an AU$15 million Series A round last summer. Vaxxas plans to keep R&D operations near its founders at the University of Queensland, Hoey told FierceBiotech.

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