Uvax Bio plans $8M expansion in Glasgow
GLASGOW – Uvax Bio, an early-stage vaccine technology company, is planning an $8 million expansion of its research and production work in Delaware, building out a lab and hiring dozens of new workers.
Founded in 2018 as a spin-off from the California-based nonprofit The Scripps Research Institute, Uvax Bio licenses proprietary technology developed by co-founder and Scripps researcher Jiang Zhu to develop and commercialize prophylactic vaccines for the most challenging infectious diseases.
The dozen patents held by the firm are used to create the Uvax, an all-in-one, virus-like nanoparticle with a simple manufacturing process. Uvax Bio is preparing to take its three lead vaccine candidates, one for COVID-19 and two for HIV-1, into Phase 1 clinical trials.
To support those trials and increasing interest in the firm’s science, Uvax Bio now plans to fit out 8,800 square feet in the Springside Plaza off U.S. Route 40 in Glasgow to create a research lab and hire up to 63 new researchers. They would range from research assistants earning $45,000 annually to R&D directors who would earn more than $130,000 annually.
To support its expansion, the state’s job investment board, the Council on Development Finance, unanimously signed off Monday on a more than $1.06 million job performance grant to help create the 63 positions and a $240,000 grant to help support the fit-out of the firm’s labs.
“Uvax Bio LLC is an innovative company in the science and technology sector, specializing in vaccine platform technology. Today’s announcement to grow in Newark shows their continued commitment to our state and workforce,” Gov. John Carney said in a statement. “Uvax Bio plans to increase their employees tenfold with this expansion. Thank you to Uvax Bio for their commitment to Delaware’s rapidly growing life sciences sector.”
Kevin O’Neill, senior vice president of corporate strategy at Uvax Bio, explained Monday that the Zhu has created a nanoparticle core on which antigens can be mounted to produce a virus-like response by a recipient’s immune system.
“This molecule has the ability to array 20 to 60 of these antigens on the exterior. We feel that this technology will not only be safe because protein vaccines have been around for a long time, but also the broad response it draws … and with our technology we hope to have a longer duration of protection as you have a deeper immune response to this molecule. So, it’s very exciting,” he said.
O’Neill explained that the Uvax nanoparticle has a foundation in traditional vaccine development but expands into more cutting-edge science as well.
“When we compare ourselves to some of the competition in the marketplace, it is much different from say mRNA vaccines, which produce just the spike … We produce the whole virus-like particle,” he said.
The lab, built within an office and health care complex in a former lab space, would be home to a variety of highly technical bioscience work, ranging from analytical work to assay development, protein purification to cell culture, O’Neill said. Uvax Bio even has plans to eventually create a small manufacturing facility, where it would have bioreactors producing small quantities of vaccine candidates on-site.
“It’s not a large facility for this kind of work, but it will be enough for us to move on to the next phase of our protein development,” he said, noting the HIV-1 vaccine in particular is among the most promising in the industry pipeline.
The CDF hearing Monday was marked by a question from council member and Community Bank Delaware President Jack Riddle, who asked about Uvax Bio’s financial backing, remarking that the firm reported a cash flow rate that could be exhausted in about a year. Council members often ask such questions to ensure a grant recipient has the wherewithal to last for at least the three guaranteed years following receipt of the public funds.
Uvax Bio’s executives then requested that they go into executive session to discuss their funding strategy in private. After returning about 15 minutes later, the council unanimously approved Uvax Bio’s grants.
Little is publicly known about the funding stream for the firm originally known as Ufovax. According to a 2020 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the firm sold 11 million of its 20 million shares to Matrix Group, a New York-based investment bank.
Several of its listed executives also have ties to Landmark Pegasus, a Florida-based corporate finance consultancy that specializes in the life sciences industry.