Intravacc – Leading the Vaccine Sector
We are living through a golden age in vaccine development, and Intravacc is at the cutting edge of it.
Dutch, Bilthoven-based Intravacc is one of the leading contract development manufacturers in the pharmaceutical sector, operating under a hybrid business model where 80% of its revenue comes from contracted development and manufacturing projects for vaccines, and 20% comes from Intravacc’s own pipeline of candidate vaccines.
Intravacc is really riding the waves, they have a nose for vaccine opportunities. It’s a organisation that is energetic with a long track record in the industry, however, in some ways it is still a relatively new company, having only existed as a public-private partnership since January 2021. Already, however, Intravacc has cut itself a competitive niche in the market.
“The unique selling point of Intravacc is it’s a one-stop-shop, driven by the mentality of vaccine innovation. We can provide services from proof-of-concept all the way to pilot production up to 200 litres. That is sufficient to support phase one clinical studies,” explains Dr Jan Groen, Intravacc’s CEO. “Our work is not limited to vaccination against infectious diseases. We have a background in infectious disease but have also developed immune therapy vaccines. We are currently engaged in trials for a bladder cancer treatment, for instance.”
A Platform for Success
Intravacc can develop vaccines for such a wide range of purposes thanks to the exclusive proprietary platforms it is able to develop them on.
“We have four platforms,” Groen says. “One is cell-based technology, which is the traditional platform for vaccines, but can also be used for vector vaccines for oncology applications.”
Intravacc has developed viral vaccines using the Vero cell line since 1987. These cells were isolated and immortalised from the kidney of an African Green Monkey and are the most widely used and reliable cell line in viral vaccine production for quality, yield, and safety.
“Then we have outer membrane vesicles, which are naturally produced by bacteria,” explains Groen. “When multiplying the bacteria release these vesicles which are highly energetic, and we use them as the basis of our vaccines, combining them with specific proteins.”
Intravacc has three types of OMV vaccines for different target diseases and antigen selection. The most straightforward, homologous OMVs, are produced with OMVs derived directly from the target Gram-negative bacterium. If the pathogen is a high containment bacterium, or the bacterium is difficult to cultivate, Intravacc can express antigens through its OMV platform, heterologous OMVs. Finally, there are Click-OMVs, which are used if the expression of the antigen is not possible in the bacterium.
OMVs do not replicate, have a proven safety track record and give a good immune response while being stable and giving a good yield.
“Then we have a platform called iBoost which is a bacterial expression platform, using the bacteria to express specific proteins to be used as a vaccine platform,” Groen tells us.
iBoost technology is a new addition to Intravacc’s platform portfolio. They are therapeutic vaccines, aimed at boosting the immune system so that it can fight cancer antigens.
“Finally, there’s our Conjugate Platform,” concludes Groen.
These are produced by covalently attaching a bacterial polysaccharide or peptide that cannot induce immunological memory itself, to a protein carrier antigen. The result is a stronger and sustained immunological response.
These vaccines have been extremely successful in preventing disease and death from bacterial infections. The technology is fast, cheap, highly effective, and Intravacc has a 20-year track record in designing, developing, and characterising conjugate vaccines.
But while Intravacc’s track record is well established, it has also been undergoing a transformation over the last couple of years.
“It’s an ongoing transformation,” says Groen. “We need to refocus the company from a highly research-orientated group of people to a company that is now focusing on product development within our clients’ time limits, quality standards and budget. That’s not something that happens overnight.”
It means looking at Intravacc’s work from a whole new angle.
“Refocusing is predominantly a mindset,” Groen tells us. “If you were hired years ago as a researcher but now you’re in product development, you need different skills; our scientists are developing from thinking freely about how to develop something new, to working for a customer who comes with the question ‘Can you fulfil what we need?’”
The transformation has been accompanied by an influx of talent.
“We were also in a position to attract good people with a lot of industry experience last year,” Groen points out. “Since we’ve existed as a research institute for quite a long time, we were also able to retain our team of 100 employees who have been with the company for many years & are well-positioned and experienced in the process for vaccines.”
Finding talent is not hard at the moment, but the same pressures that are drawing people into the market, also make it competitive.
“Since the vaccine market is quite hot now, it’s become an attractive place for people to work but it’s a highly competitive market,” Groen says. “The challenge we are currently facing is access to clients due to the covid pandemic.”
Given that each new contract has a lead time between six and nine months, a company new to the industry must work hard to create visibility. Fortunately, Intravacc has a competitive edge.
“Due to our unique proprietary platform, we can quickly catch up to attract customers,” Groen says. “Intravacc is new as a CDMO, but we were a research institute prior to 2021. Predominantly we worked on supplying vaccines for lower and middle-income countries, for childhood vaccines for polio and measles, and these have been provided to low incomes countries with agreements with pharma companies in Asia.”
The Vaccine Age
Vaccines are quite the ‘zeitgeist’ right now, and with good reason. This brings boons and challenges to the industry. Vaccines are getting a lot of attention right now, but that attention is primarily focused on Covid, which can make it different for other, equally important vaccines to get the attention they need.
“We have multiple vaccine development programs up and running. We have one running for Covid-19, but which takes a different approach to the others on the market. It’s not mRNA or DNA based, it is based on our proprietary OMV platform,” Groen explains. “It is also an intranasal vaccine, which is more powerful than an intramuscular administered vaccine. But we also have a program up and running for a vaccine against Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease in Asia. That’s a huge market, and we’re developing another vaccine for the US government.”
Whatever comes next, Groen sounds optimistic.
“I think there’s a great future in front of us thanks to our product position, our unique proprietary platform, and on top of that, we are seeing the next big wave in the vaccine development marketplace is new proprietary drugs, but they all need to be manufactured,” he says. “That’s expensive if you don’t have a production or upscaling facility as we do. We can help develop that, offering documentation you can then pass on to a large-scale manufacturing organisation.”