Liquidia figuring out how to ‘unleash’ technology
DURHAM – Durham-based Liquidia Technologies’ is working on developing vaccines using tiny particles manufactured as carriers of substances meant to trigger or boost the body’s immune response. The goal is to “finely tune” that response, and increase vaccine efficiency and safety, the company’s chief executive said.
But the start-up company could also branch into other applications with its technology, Liquidia’s CEO Neal Fowler said Wednesday. Speaking as part of a panel at the Nanotech Commercialization Conference in Durham, Fowler said the company has established a deal with Procter & Gamble for the technology’s use in consumer products, and could look into other areas outside of life science as well.
The two-day conference, hosted by the NanoBusiness Commercialization Association and other groups, was focused on businesses in that use nanotechnology, which is technology conducted at a very small scale – the nano scale.
Charles Hamner, chair of The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, a nonprofit research organization that’s based in the Research Triangle Park, said the business development using nanotechnology is still in the innovation stage of development, but he believes it’s about to enter the growth stage, which is the stage before maturity.
Hamner, who was also on the panel alongside Fowler, said he believes resources need to be allocated to help grow nanotechnology’s use. John Hardin, executive director of the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Office of Science & Technology, advocated for the government’s role in allocating public resources to help stimulate early stage business sectors like business using nanotechnology.
Hardin said has office has been pushing nanotechnology, but added that his office also been selected for review by state legislators that he believes will lead to reduced funding.
“(We’re) now at a prime time to support nanotechnology and its growth,” Hamner said.
As for Liquidia’s development, Fowler said the company is now focused on working on its “second generation” vaccine candidates – vaccines for malaria and pneumonia.
The first generation involved work on an influenza vaccine candidate. The company announced the launch of a Phase 1 clinical trial for a seasonal influenza vaccine in 2010, which was a trial that helped the company show the safety of its technology, Fowler said.
In February of last year, the company announced a collaboration with the international nonprofit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative to explore using the company’s technology in the development of “next generation” malaria vaccines.
In March, Liquidia announced a $10 million equity investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for development and commercialization of vaccines and therapeutics with a focus on malaria and flu vaccines.
Then in December, Liquidia announced a collaborative agreement with PATH to do preclinical proof-of-concept studies for a next-generation pneumonia vaccine.
“We’re in preclinical animal models now, we hope to get to human in the not-too-distant future,” Fowler said.
The company’s board has also had discussions about other applications for the company’s technology, Fowler said, including spinning out one application, or licensing it for another, as a way to generate revenue.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions about the right time to do that,” he said. “A lot of other applications outside vaccines are at a very early stage,” he added.
The company now has a partnership “looking at a couple consumer products,” with Procter & Gamble, a company that manufactures personal care, cleaning, laundry detergents, prescription drugs and other products.
“Our challenge going forward is, our opportunity will be, how to pace those events to get the technology (going) faster and faster,” Fowler said. “(We) had to go through three or four years of understanding what we have on our hands, (we’re) now figuring out how to unleash it.”
The company could use its particle technology across an array of products, he said, speaking generally.
“The world is full of particles, (we could) produce things for diagnostics, consumer products, solar panels to green building materials,” he said. “We can use our technology for any of that.”
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