Vaxxinity’s leaders have always had lofty goals, with an eye toward “saving humanity.” But it’s no longer enough for the clinical-stage biotech to merely democratize health — Vaxxinity is now trying to help send humans to space as a multiplanetary species.
Lou Reese, the company’s co-founder, executive chairman and self-professed “space dork,” said the Cape Canaveral-based company has teamed up with the University of Central Florida to test its peptide-based vaccine technology to combat microgravity-accelerated muscle and bone loss in astronauts.
“If humanity is to become a spacefaring species, solving fundamental problems related to space travel and living are table stakes,” Reese said earlier this month.
The research, backed by a Florida state grant, also has significant terrestrial applications. If Vaxxinity is successful, human trials might begin next year and the vaccines could ultimately roll out globally to older adults, Reese said.
The question the company now aims to answer is: “How can we make sure this is accessible and reimbursable around the world? Because ultimately, that's what it's about,” Reese said.
Bolstering the pipeline
Vaxxinity isn’t the only research program exploring bone-building drugs to benefit astronauts, but its vaccine-based approach is unique. The company designed its peptide-based vaccines to overcome the body’s reticence to attack problematic self-proteins inside the body that can trigger chronic illnesses. The goal is to turn the body into a “drug factory” by activating the immune system to produce antibodies against these targets.
"We strive to promote both healthy aging and ensure humanity can become multi-planetary, brave low gravity exposure and be of the stars."
Executive chairman, co-founder, Vaxxinity
The most advanced vaccine in the pipeline targets accumulations of amyloid beta in the brain, which is thought to drive Alzheimer’s disease progression. Other vaccines target proteins like α-synuclein in Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy Body (“DLB”) and multiple system atrophy (“MSA”), calcitonin gene-related peptide in migraine headaches, and PCSK9 in hypercholesterolemia. The company also has a COVID-19 booster on the verge of approval in the UK and Australia, Reese said.
The company isn’t revealing protein targets for bone and muscle wasting nor the results of its early work in animals yet.
“What I can say is that we're encouraged by the ability to add meaningful, lean muscle mass and mass to these animals,” he said.
A new option
Vaxxinity’s vaccines could offer an alternative to chronic-disease-targeting monoclonal antibody drugs (mAbs) at a fraction of the cost. While mAbs hold vast promise to treat diseases ranging from cancer to eye disease, they’re tricky to manufacture and administer, which drives up the price and limits access to less than 1% of people on the planet.
The company doesn’t necessarily want to disrupt the mAb market, which could reach $463 billion by 2030 — it wants to improve chronic disease treatment access with an effective but lower-cost option. The vaccines could have an annual per-patient cost in the hundreds or low thousands, compared with $100,000 a year for a mAb, Reese said.
The vaccines, administered four times a year or less, would also be easy to store, and they can tackle multiple targets at once. For example, they can act on two mechanisms to improve bone health, slowing loss and stimulating growth. The same might be possible for muscles as well, Reese said.
Vaxxinity’s technology is already widely used in veterinary settings with billions of doses sold and the company has run human trials involving about 4,500 people with a solid safety profile, Reese said.
Ultimately, Reese sees these vaccines as a solution to ease the strain on healthcare budgets through innovation rather than legislation.
“Vaxxinity is all in on developing and commercializing these solutions and … we strive to promote both healthy aging and ensure humanity can become multi-planetary, brave low gravity exposure and be of the stars,” Reese said.