In their cold, sterile labs near Orlando, some local scientists are creating a hot commodity — biological replicas of the human immune system — that could play a role in saving the planet from a pandemic.
That’s one of the goals, at least, of the work at Sanofi Pasteur VaxDesign Corp., the Central Florida unit of a French pharmaceutical giant. Scientists are creating test-tube versions of the human immune system to determine how effective various vaccines are in preventing diseases such as influenza, yellow fever and tuberculosis.
Although much of the work is specifically for the local company’s corporate parent, Sanofi Pasteur, the world’s largest vaccine maker, the latest group to buy into VaxDesign’s work is a Pentagon agency that develops ways to deter biological and chemical warfare.
This week, Sanofi Pasteur VaxDesign Corp. in Orlando announced it got a $15.1 million U.S. Department of Defense contract.
So what will it be doing? And, more importantly, is it classified?
The short version is it will be testing vaccines for two viruses and a toxin. VaxDesign — acquired in 2010 for $60 million by Lyon, France-based Sanofi Pasteur — got the contract because it has developed the MIMIC (modular immune in vitro construct) system. MIMIC is better known as a human immune system in a tube, and can test how the human body will react to a vaccine.
I talked with VaxDesign founder Bill Warren, who now heads up its campus, about the local impact of the contract:
What we’ll be doing for the Department of Defense: This is related to tularemia (also known as deer-fly fever), Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (a mosquito-born virus that causes swelling of the brain) and ricin (a toxin). We’re doing vaccine assessment as well as trying to understand how vaccines can be effective longer. With some vaccines, like yellow fever, you’re protected for life. Other ones you’re not. They want to understand the signals that lead to longer effectiveness.
French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur plans to buy Orlando-based biotech company VaxDesign in a $60 million deal, which will bring the presence of a major international pharmaceutical company to Central Florida.
In addition, VaxDesign plans to nearly double the size of its facility in the next three or four months and add another 17 high-wage jobs within the next 12 months.
Lyon, France-based Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi-Aventis Group (NYSE: SNY), is the largest company in the world devoted entirely to human vaccines.
Sanofi Pasteur signed a binding agreement on Sept. 27 for the acquisition of VaxDesign, which develops, makes and markets in vitro models of the human immune system. The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.