Skip to main content

WARF licenses influenza vaccine technology to FluGen

May 8, 2008

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the private, nonprofit patenting and licensing organization for the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and FluGen, a local startup company that develops influenza vaccines and treatments, have signed license agreements for a technology that has the potential to significantly improve the way influenza vaccines are manufactured.

"Flu vaccines today are manufactured in embryonated chicken eggs," says Paul V. Radspinner, president and CEO of the company. "The current method is expensive and risky because it involves predicting in advance which flu virus will affect the population and then growing that specific virus in the eggs."

Radspinner noted that the current technique can take up to nine months and may not work during an avian-based pandemic because the bird flu virus itself may prove lethal to the eggs.

FluGen is built on technology created by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a professor in the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the world’s leading influenza experts, and Gabrielle Neumann, a virologist at UW–Madison. Earlier technologies from the Kawaoka laboratory already are changing the influenza vaccine industry by providing more cost-effective, flexible and speedier methods to manufacture vaccines.

"Dr. Kawaoka is an internationally regarded expert in avian influenza. The university, WARF and the state of Wisconsin recently collaborated to provide Dr. Kawaoka the means to create the Influenza Research Institute, which is part of the UW School of Veterinary Medicine," says Carl E. Gulbrandsen, managing director of WARF. "Dr. Kawaoka, his institute and his company FluGen are important ingredients in maintaining the UW–Madison’s prowess as a major research powerhouse and our capital region as a nationally significant and growing hotbed of biotechnology. We’re very pleased to be able to work with him."

Kawaoka co-founded FluGen last summer with Neumann and Radspinner, a former WARF licensing manager whose industry experience includes more than 15 years in leadership positions with Eli Lilly and Deltanoid Pharmaceuticals.

FluGen, based in Madison’s University Research Park, initially will focus on improving the way flu vaccines are manufactured. All major influenza vaccine manufacturers are in the process of developing vaccines that will be produced within cells rather than the embryonated eggs, which will dramatically increase the speed and reduce the expense of making the vaccines, according to Radspinner.

FluGen’s new technology makes this new manufacturing process faster and less expensive by increasing vaccine yield substantially. This could lead to the need for smaller facilities and less time to produce the appropriate vaccines, which could be critical in the event of a "bird flu" pandemic.

FluGen also intends to commercialize improved influenza vaccines and conduct research aimed at finding more effective ways to treat people infected with the virus.

The company, which will collaborate with the new UW–Madison Influenza Research Institute led by Kawaoka, has received more than $2 million in angel investments thus far. It also recently was certified to receive investor tax credits from the state of Wisconsin.

"This is a great example of how UW, WARF, the local angel investment community and the state of Wisconsin are working together to spur economic development," says Radspinner. "This company, like other exciting new biotech ventures, will lead to higher-paying jobs that will help us keep more new UW graduates in Wisconsin."

FluGen is a Madison, Wis.-based company focused on the prevention and treatment of both seasonal and pandemic influenza worldwide. The company was founded in 2007 by Kawaoka, Neumann and Radspinner to address three specific areas: increasing vaccine virus yields in cell culture, developing better influenza vaccines and producing new ways to treat the disease.

WARF supports world-class research at UW–Madison by protecting the intellectual property of university faculty, staff and students, and licensing inventions resulting from their work. Through these efforts, university ideas benefit the public by bringing resources back to the university to continue the cycle of investment, research and invention. WARF was established in 1925 as the world’s first university-based technology transfer office.