Affinivax Is Creating the ‘Next-Generation’ of Vaccines

The Cambridge-based company received financial backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its technique.

Using technology developed at Boston Children’s Hospital, a new company called Affinivax is setting out to the make the complex world of vaccine development easier, cheaper, and all around better.

The Cambridge-based company, which just received financial backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, uses a proprietary new technology called Multiple Antigen Presenting System (MAPS) to improve the efficiency and efficacy of conjugate vaccines, which are made by combining polysaccharides and proteins.

“We’re basically just putting these affinity tags on the polysaccharides and the proteins and they just find each other and stick together like velcro, and that is what allows us to begin to play with different ratios of polysaccharides and proteins in a very modular, accelerated manner of discovery,” explains Affinivax CEO Steve Brugger. “It does open up the possibility to pursue other diseases which haven’t really been tackled before.”

In layman’s terms, Affinivax’s shots would harness the power of the both the polysaccharides and proteins used in the formula, improving the power and coverage of the treatment while also making the development stage faster and more affordable. “Conjugate vaccines are very complicated and difficult to manufacture,” Brugger says. “Because we have a more simple and efficient approach to manufacture, we believe we can accelerate the discovery of our vaccine efforts so we can move more vaccines to initial proof of concept, and ultimately we can reduce costs of some of these vaccines, particularly for the developing world.”

Right now, Affinivax’s sights are set on improving inoculation against pneumococcus, which causes everything from pneumonia to bloodstream infections, but other disease vaccines are in the pipeline as well—many of which could have a great impact on the developing world, especially since Affinivax’s technology promises to be affordable.

“We’re committed to advancing our pneumococcus program forward because we believe it allows us to get a very early and solid proof of concept,” Brugger says. “That will then allow us to then pursue additional diseases, which we’re looking at right now. Some may certainly have developing world impact and others may have developed world impact.”

Getting to that point will be helped by the investment from the Gates Foundation, an organization that has also shown a dedicated interest in eradicating pneumococcus. Nonetheless, Brugger says the Foundation will not influence Affinivax’s vision, only make it easier to realize. “Their investment in the company allows us to build the company as if we were any startup leveraging typical venture funding,” he says.

And, Brugger says, building the company up could be integral to the way vaccines develop in the coming years. “I know ‘next-generation’ is unfortunately used way too often, but this is truly a next-generation vaccine approach,” he says. “This could change the way we look at developing vaccines.”