Based: Cambridge, MA
The Scoop: Working out of his lab, Harvard Medical School's Dr. Darren Higgins set out to create a faster, cheaper, better way to develop new vaccines--mimicking the human immune system in vivo in order to swiftly zero in on the antigens most likely to elicit an immune response. Higgins is one of the scientific co-founders of Genocea Biosciences, which in a breathtakingly short time has won a series of kudos from experts in the field and may well change the way vaccines are developed.
What makes them fierce: Genocea is all about speed.
"The core value proposition," says President Robert Paull, is to take an average time period for finding the right antigen for a vaccine--which now can take years--and do the work in a matter of weeks or months.
The technology lends itself to the collaborative approach, while giving the company a chance to develop its own pipeline of products. And the CEO says that Genocea is also likely to partner with delivery and adjuvant companies as well.
There's also a lot he's not telling. The head count is "in the double digits" and the lead program is being kept under wraps for now. But the company is still gearing up, backed by Lux capital and Polaris Venture Partners. Paull is a Managing Partner at Lux.
He is not thinking small.
"Genocea a great IPO candidate," he says. "It's the only game beyond Intercell in Austria (another vaccine developer). And Intercell is a $1.5 billion publicly traded company.
"Pandemics aren't a focus, but the technology is suited to rapid response to infectious disease outbreaks," adds Paull. "You can screen a diverse population to tease out antigens that are the most common to them. The technology is suited to rapid response," he adds, and that could have a lot of applications for the defense industry and beyond.
What to look for: Genocea will double its staff in 18 months and probably raise another venture round in a year's time. Look for licensing deals and proof its technology is as fast as they claim it is.