Before coming to Harvard, Livio Valenti was working for the United Nations in Cambodia. There, he started looking for ways to not only support rural farmers, but to also provide easier access to vaccines for people worldwide. The answer? Silk.
Over at Tufts University, Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto was developing technology that stabilizes vaccines using silk protein. What Omenetto discovered was the silk matrix provides greater stability, eliminating the need for cold-chain transport.
Enter Harvard — most specifically, a Commercializing Science class. Livio brought Omenetto’s story and his experience in Cambodia to the students there. It didn’t take long for his peers to rally around the idea and, four months later, Vaxess Technologies was born.
Now seeking to commercialize Omenetto’s technology, Vaxess will both lower the cost of distribution and storage for all vaccines. Teammate Kathryn Kosuda says that 98 percent of vaccines have to be stored between 35 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. For those in low-income, rural areas, however, where there isn’t an infrastructure for cold storage, that can be difficult. Yet, that’s where Vaxess fits in.
“If you look at our backgrounds, you would have maybe looked at us and said, we’re not the right team to pursue this technology, because we don’t have pharmaceutical experience,” says Michael Schrader.
He could be right. Out of the four core team members — Kosuda, Schrader, Valenti and Patrick Ho — you have one former post doctorate chemistry student, a Harvard Business School graduate, a Harvard Kennedy student and a Harvard Law School graduate, respectively. Yet, it’s their backgrounds that have helped Vaxess thrive.
Although what rallied the team together was the initial idea, what Ho says has kept them together are their diverse backgrounds. “We bring a lot of different talents,” Ho says. “Our personalities and our skill sets really match.”
Schrader agrees, claiming, “We face a unique challenge just about every day with this, but someone on the team has overcome every challenge we’ve faced.”
Considering Vaxess was a semi-finalist for the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, won Harvard’s Business Plan Contest, is still in the running for Harvard’s President Challenge and was just named one of the 2012 MassChallenge finalists — they’re definitely onto something. “We have amazing momentum right now,” Kosuda admits.
Currently, Schrader claims they’re focused first on taking the science and advancing it forward, and then on securing pharmaceutical partnerships.
“The primary benefit of this technology is that it has tremendous potential to increase global vaccine access,” Schrader says. When pitching pharmaceutical companies, the Vaxess team can say, “We’re going to allow you to hit markets you previously haven’t been able to access.”
Tie that in with the people who previously haven’t been able to access vaccines, and you’ve got a team who’s destined to change the world.