Wisconsin State Journal – Flugen To Pursue Making Influenza Vaccine Faster

Wisconsin State Journal :: BUSINESS :: E1

By JUDY NEWMAN jdnewman@madison.com 608-252-6156

FluGen, a Madison company founded in 2007 based on the research led by UW-Madison avian flu expert Yoshihiro Kawaoka, has signed a licensing agreement with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

The primary goal: to create a faster, more effective, less expensive way to manufacture influenza vaccine.

Since the 1930s, the standard for making flu vaccine has been that a team of experts decides which flu strains to target, then chicken eggs are injected with the viruses which are then grown for use in the vaccine.

“It takes quite a bit of time to come up with that, and this year, they were off,” Paul Radspinner, FluGen president, chief executive and co-founder said.

Kawaoka, a veterinary medicine professor, and UW-Madison virologist Gabrielle Neumann pioneered a new technique called reverse genetics that produces the virus in cell culture instead of eggs. Large, stainless steel vats are used “like those used in brewing beer,” Radspinner said.

He said major flu vaccine manufacturers are adopting the technology. “It’s cleaner, safer and faster. In case of a pandemic, time is going to be of the essence,” Radspinner said. The newer system, Radspinner said, takes about three months instead of eight or nine months.

FluGen is working on a refinement of the process that manipulates proteins in the cells to produce a larger amount of the virus, Radspinner said. That technology also was created by Kawaoka and Neumann, who are continuing their research and will be affiliated with the new Influenza Research Institute on campus.

FluGen has three employees, including Radspinner, and expects to add two more by the end of the summer, Radspinner said. The company has received more than $2 million from angel investors – or, wealthy individuals – and has qualified for investor tax credits from the state of Wisconsin.

FluGen also has licensed technology from WARF for two additional projects. One involves a different type of influenza vaccine. “It will have, we think, a safer and potentially more effective profile than vaccines currently on the market,” Radspinner said.

The other project involves developing a new treatment for flu. It will be at least a couple of years before any of FluGen’s products will be ready for the market, Radspinner said.