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Posted on Sun, Nov 1, 2009 : 5:55 a.m.

Swine flu vaccine production problems show NanoBio's potential

By Nathan Bomey

The sluggish production process for the swine flu vaccine illustrates the global potential of an Ann Arbor biotech company’s technology.

Antiquated vaccine production technology, which is making it difficult for manufacturers to quickly produce H1N1 flu vaccines, is creating demand for a revolutionary alternative. That's where University of Michigan spinoff NanoBio hopes to step in.

Since its inception in 2000, Ann Arbor-based NanoBio has acquired more than $90 million in venture capital and grants to develop its platform vaccine technology.

NanoBio’s nanoemulsion technology - which involves extremely small particles - aims to create a new type of nasal vaccine that could revolutionize disease prevention. Influenza is one of several conditions the vaccine technology, originally developed at the University of Michigan, could be used to prevent.

“Early data shows very significant immune-system responses,” said John Coffey, NanoBio's vice president for business development. “The technology promises to provide enhanced immunity with reduced amount of antigen. The antigen is a difficult piece in vaccine production. So if you can use less of it, you can vaccinate more people with the same amount of material.”

Shortages of the H1N1 vaccine have ensued this fall after major manufacturers overestimated their ability to produce the vaccine quickly. The Centers for Disease Control is reportedly receiving 37.7 percent of its projected supply for October. Manufacturers' production projections were based on misguided assumptions that the H1N1 virus would multiply rapidly in a controlled lab environment.

The episode is a stark reminder that we need to invest heavily in new vaccine technology to avoid pandemics.

Earlier this month, U-M and NanoBio won a joint $9.3 million award to fund additional research on the new influenza vaccine. NanoBio gets $4.1 million of the award to accelerate clinical development of the nasal vaccine.

It's promising technology, but caution is appropriate. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is tightening regulatory oversight of drug companies, is likely to give an intense overview to all nanotechnology companies because their technology is so new.

And NanoBio’s influenza vaccine is still in the first of three phases of drawn-out clinical development. The firm is much closer to market with a topical therapy that would treat herpes labialis.

Nonetheless, NanoBio’s technology seems ever more relevant in the wake of the H1N1 vaccine production problems.

“It’s really a platform for new vaccine technology,” Coffey said.

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter.