Seventeen years ago EpiVax Inc. spun out of a laboratory at Brown University – a high-risk but high-reward company whose founders had made an innovative discovery.
Today the self-funded, Providence-headquartered company is at the forefront of vaccine research. Its computational tools enable developers to engineer and design safe, effective and protective therapeutic proteins and vaccines, and protect against global health threats.
Ultimately, EpiVax is changing the landscape of 21st-century medicine. Advances pioneered by its scientists are changing the development of vaccines and biotech drugs from right here in Rhode Island.
“We’re a Rhode Island company. We’re staying a Rhode Island company. We enjoy it here. We’re expanding,” said EpiVax Chief Operating and Information Officer William Martin.
After establishing a prominent research lab at Brown, immunologist Dr. Anne S. De Groot discovered a technology known as Tregitopes, or linear sequences of amino acids that activate natural regulatory T-cells. The company’s research found that Tregitopes can be successfully and safely applied to auto-immune, auto-inflammatory and allergic conditions.
Today, EpiVax’s primary customers are global pharmaceutical companies of all sizes that make what are known as biologic proteins. It also works alongside various universities, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, and biotech companies that focus on protein/vaccine design and development, and use tools that manage biological information with computer technology.
“We give value to our customers. We have customers who come back time and time again,” said Martin.
But for EpiVax, integral to the process is the continuous examination of immune response and its drivers, and, in turn, helping people to understand just how that process works. As a result, its scientific team remains internationally recognized. In 2015, De Groot was named one of 50 top influencers in the field of vaccinology by industry analysts at VaccineNation, and Martin is considered one of the top innovators in computational immunology.
Alongside its ongoing innovation, an element of the company’s success is its continued investment in itself, according to Martin.
Although it does not reveal its financial information, EpiVax calls itself “cash-flow positive,” as opposed to “profitable,” Martin said, because all excess income is infused right back into the company. Starting out 17 years ago, it has bootstrapped itself, he said, and has purposely worked at a slow, upward pace to allow reasonable growth.
EpiVax derives its revenue from the leasing of computational tools [which comprises the majority of its commercial sales], licensing agreements of Tregitopes, lab services, consulting services and interactive cloud-based “in-silico services” (services that involve research conducted via computer-simulated models). Its “Immunogenicity Screening” system is leased annually by nine of the world’s 12 largest pharmaceutical companies.
According to Martin, federal Small Business Innovative Research grants were crucial in the first 10 years of the business. “Those were the legs of the stool,” he said.
The company’s biggest goal is to develop its own products for clinical use. Several are in the pipeline, and EpiVax’s first vaccine against a new avian strain of the influenza virus is expected to enter initial clinical evaluations next year.
“We have multiple profit centers, and they are all doing well,” said Martin.
FROM PROVIDENCE BUSINESS NEWS BY TARYN PLUMB | CONTRIBUTING WRITER