By Michelle Leach
From its headquarters in Lincoln, Benchmark Biolabs has developed the first vaccine licensed for use in the United States to protect against the foot-and-mouth disease that claimed 6 million animals’ lives and cost a staggering $10 billion in losses as it swept the U.K. in the early 2000s, and by enlisting the resources of marketer AgriLabs.
The 17-year-old biotech pioneer is deploying the joint VaxLiant venture to build upon the proven creation and commercialization of solutions to protect the $1 trillion agriculture industry.
“We realized we had a lot of compatible functions to support each other,” said Director of Business Development Josh Johnson of VaxLiant, the spinoff announced by the two firms in April. “Benchmark has 16-plus years of experience in animal vaccines, and AgriLabs had 20-plus years in sales and distribution. We felt like we had a solid R&D arm, and sales and distribution experience.”
Benchmark Biolabs and its Missouri-based partner and marketer of vaccines, nutritionals and other animal health products, AgriLabs, in their announcement from this spring, reported that VaxLiant was created to modernize how vaccines deliver those antigens which stimulate the production of antibodies to fend off disease.
“We have two businesses that are already well-entrenched,” said President Timothy J. Miller, Ph.D. and founder of Benchmark Biolabs. “We currently are using the facilities that both of us have at our respective companies to accommodate the activities that are associated with the VaxLiant ventures.
“We anticipate growing into new opportunities with the sale of adjuvants.”
Additionally, from its nerve center at 421 West Industrial Lake Drive, Miller noted that four of its 30 full-time Benchmark Biolabs employees are within the core group of eight individuals tasked with VaxLiant as of early August, with the balance of talent represented by AgriLabs’ professionals.
Johnson also noted that it had a “prior client service relationship” with AgriLabs before the launch of VaxLiant; in addition, its familiarity extends to the reputation preceding respective companies, as Johnson characterized the businesses as “top of game” within the sales and distribution and sales and services realms.
According to company information, VaxLiant’s offerings are in what could be characterized as two key areas: its portfolio of 15 ENABL ready-to-use adjuvants formulated to stimulate the immune response to vaccination in cattle, pigs and poultry, and its “fully customizable” Biomize antigen-delivery systems.
“This adjuvant has many offerings at all levels,” Miller said. “These adjuvants are helpful for high-tier companies, as well as startup companies.”
Miller alone has more than 30 years’ experience in biological development, characterized by highlights such as the world’s first development, licensing and commercialization around recombinant DNA, Litterguard, a product that when added to birds’ litter helps to reduce bacteria and improve health.
We can formulate this adjuvant to meet the demands of what I call ‘new-generation vaccines,’” he said.
More to this point, and its differentiators as an established company, Miller noted that many adjuvants that may be pulled off the shelf are toxic.
VaxLiant is not.
Leveraging examinations in the lab, Miller said his team has optimized the best features contributing to an ideal, not to mention flexible formulation that also affords “tremendous cost savings” to its partner organizations across type and size.
To that “flexibility,” Miller noted these formulations may be created with very specific applications in mind.
For example, vets and farmers may now have access through VaxLiant to adjuvants that address a particular immune response.
Acknowledging its differentiators further, Miller emphasized that its formulations may be screened “in vitro” (the lab or test tube in a controlled environment), versus “in vivo” — which requires a certain amount of testing within the animal.
“We don’t want to do so much of that testing,” he said, reinforcing the notion of reduced animal usage in the formulation of these immune response-boosting applications.
So, while leadership noted that Biomize is a customized and optimized offering, the samples that are ready to be deployed now around cows, pigs and birds under the umbrella of “ENABL,” have also been tailored and formulated to the point where these 15 offerings are highly customized as well.
Miller noted its existing depth of experience in the animal health industry, but recent, specific victories are prominently represented by Benchmark’s earning the 2012 Science and Technology Directorate Under Secretary’s Award — the highest honor extended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and tied to the development and licensing of a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine.
According to company information, the FMD vaccine is the “culmination of a 10-year effort” and marks a “significant milestone” in its ongoing work to protect the country’s $1 trillion ag industry.
“This is the first successful FMD vaccine technology developed in more than 50 years and the first FMD vaccine licensed for use in the United States,” a Benchmark announcement reads, “protecting against a virus that caused $10 billion in losses and 6 million animal deaths in the UK in 2001.”
Going forward, Johnson indicated one should expect to see a beefed-up VaxLiant site, whereby as early as this quarter one may access with a few keystrokes full descriptions of its offerings and data sets tied to usage.
For example, he said, if one was interested in a formulation for poultry, one could pull up all the data, charts and usage surrounding this adjuvant — including but not limited to its success rate, dosage used and effects.
All the means would be available, he said, for one to contact the company and start down the steps of securing vaccine solutions.
Johnson also noted in August that test samples for available adjuvants within the ENABL line are being distributed to manufacturers to aid in securing the benefits of these formulations.
Miller, who earned his doctorate in microbiology from the University of Kansas in 1979 and went on to join the SmithKline Animal Health organization in the early 1980s, has seen a tremendous shift within the realm of biological development — from conceptualization to commercialization.
“I didn’t have a large population of trained individuals to draw upon,” he said of those early years. “Now the difference is between night and day.”
He acknowledged the likes of the Nebraska Innovation Campus, a public-private undertaking to spur the transformation of ideas into innovative products and services in the marketplace.
Such efforts, he indicated, makes hiring individuals so much easier.
“Sixty-five percent of our employees come from a Nebraska background and are Nebraska trained in Nebraska universities,” he said.
Posted with permission from MBJ Inc., publisher of the August 15, 2013 issue of the Lincoln Business Journal, 1324 S. 119th St., Omaha, NE 68144, 402-330-1760, www.mbj.com
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