A life-sciences startup working with India‘s largest vaccine manufacturer is still considering putting its American headquarters in Atlanta.
Vaxygen Vaccines Ltd. is also looking at Charleston, S.C., and the choice could come down to which city is more supportive of its efforts to open a base with R&D and clinical-trial capabilities, co-founder and CEO David Dodd told GlobalAtlanta.
The company said in December its facility in the Southeast could create as many as 250 high-paying jobs. A decision is expected within the next two years but could come as soon as this year if the elements align, Mr. Dodd said.
Vaxygen, which is incorporated in Ireland, aims to take new vaccines from around the world into developed markets where they’re not yet approved.
An agreement signed last June with the Serum Institute of India, or SII, which makes more than 1 billion vaccine doses annually, gave Vaxygen the rights to distribute SII’s products in the U.S., Canada and the European Union. Similar deals are in the works in other countries, said Mr. Dodd, a Savannah resident and former CEO of Solvay Pharmaceuticals and Serological Corp.
“We look for where we can find the best innovation that fits our business model,” he said.
That model will rely on bringing vaccines to market quickly. The traditional development timeline for a vaccine can take 20 years. Taking existing products and handling trials, marketing and approvals from the Food and Drug Administration and its foreign counterparts, Vaxygen aims to trim this process to five years or less.
The SII partnership is promising because the Indian company has spent nearly 50 years with the expressed goal of providing first-world therapies at Indian prices. Keeping costs down while ramping up innovation has become somewhat of a specialty among Indian firms, but they sometimes struggle to take their innovations overseas.
Europe and the U.S. make up the majority of the worldwide vaccine market. The approval processes are relatively similar in both places but can vary depending on the product. For instance, while the U.S. has guidelines on generic drugs, it doesn’t have the same for biological products like vaccines, Europe has issued such guidelines for years, and its customs union makes it pretty simple to reach most countries.
“In the EU, you take the lead country and get approval in it and you can apply for mutual recognition by the other countries,” Mr. Dodd said.
Mr. Dodd recognizes Georgia’s “weak access to capital in life sciences” but said Vaxygen is being courted by potential investors. He told news services in December that the company aimed to raise $100 million in private funding.
Those who “moan and whine” about the lack of capital in Georgia are misguided, he said, noting that capital will follow the development of a stronger life-sciences cluster.
“It’s the chicken and the egg…” he said. “If you have a strong industry base, you’re not going to have any problem bringing capital there because capital goes where it’s going to be utilized.”
Two measures currently in the Georgia Legislature would seek to remedy a problem that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce says is driving 40 percent of Georgia startups out of the state for funding after less than five years.
Under House Bill 718, the “Invest Georgia” program, the state is considering creating an up to $200 million venture-capital account to be funded by auctioning insurance premium tax credits.
Senate Bill 402, passed in February by a 50-4 vote but still awaiting House approval, would allow Georgia to invest its public pension fund in alternative investments, including venture capital, which are riskier but potentially offer higher returns.
Georgia is the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t have this ability, and its life sciences incentive programs are lagging Florida, Texas and North Carolina, who “will write a check all day long to get folks to come there,” said David Hartnett, vice president for bioscience initiatives at the Metro Atlanta Chamber.
In addition to many other positions, Mr. Dodd is chairman of the board of GeoVax Inc., an Atlanta-based company working to develop an AIDS vaccine.