Contacts: Paul Radspinner, President and CEO
Funding from group led by distinguished UW–Madison alum puts technology on path to commercial success
MADISON, Wis. – FluGen, an emerging biosciences company co-founded by University of Wisconsin–Madison influenza experts, has secured $7.8 million in a round of funding that will carry one of its leading technologies into human clinical trials this year.
The funding will allow FluGen to begin phase I trials with its intradermal vaccine delivery device, a painless skin patch the size of a poker chip that has been shown to be much more effective than standard needle injections. The funds also will help the company, a licensee of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, advance its portfolio of vaccine technologies.
Leading the latest funding round was Knox LLC of Las Vegas, the investment vehicle of Stevens Point native and distinguished UW–Madison alumnus Frederick J. Mancheski. Mancheski is a former chairman and CEO of automotive parts supplier Echlin and a graduate of the university’s mechanical engineering department.
“I am particularly excited by the FluGen technology because it addresses a compelling health care need. Wisconsin’s tax credit system offers strong incentives to invest in the state’s most promising technologies and I am pleased to be able to participate in advancing Flugen’s innovative technologies to market,” said Mancheski. “The climate for capital formation and investment in bioscience innovation in the state of Wisconsin is strong and likely to attract substantial additional outside investment interest in the months and years to come and should increase the economic outlook.”
Paul Radspinner, president and CEO of FluGen, said the Wisconsin Department of Commerce approved Knox’s certification under the state’s unique investment tax credit program for early stage businesses in December and helped FluGen secure additional support from several resident Wisconsin investors.
Radspinner said the success of startup bioscience companies such as FluGen depends on the availability of venture capital. The emergence here of wealthy individual investors like Mancheski—such investors are known as “super angels” on the coasts—signals a positive development for Wisconsin companies eager to move technologies from the lab to the marketplace.
FluGen’s microneedle patch will deliver influenza and other vaccines where they are most effective and without the painful stick of a standard needle. In patients aged 65 and older, standard intramuscular vaccines lose their effectiveness because of declining immune system activity. However, the skin’s ability to maintain immunity longer than the rest of the body helps vaccines administered via an intradermal patch produce a more robust overall immune response.
“Increasing the effectiveness of flu and other vaccines is particularly important in older patients because they are at risk for more serious complications resulting from the flu,” Radspinner said. “Reducing the number of older patients who come down with pneumonia or die due to the flu would be a major advance. If you add to that that the virtually pain-free nature of the patch will prove much less invasive and scary for children, you have a real opportunity to make the vaccination ritual a much better experience with better outcomes.”
If all goes as planned in the phase I clinical trials and subsequent studies, FluGen anticipates the patch will be ready for market by 2015. In addition to developing the patch as a more effective way to deliver flu and other vaccines, the company also is studying a better influenza vaccine candidate and more efficient ways to produce vaccines.
Radspinner said FluGen is uniquely positioned to ensure that its core technologies achieve key developmental milestones. Radspinner co-founded the company with acclaimed UW–Madison virology researchers Yoshihiro Kawaoka and Gabriele Neumann, who remain on the company’s scientific advisory board.
With eight employees, FluGen was founded in 2007 and received initial support from angel investors and other sources including WARF. Based in the University Research Park in Madison, its first product to enter clinical trials will be the vaccine delivery patch. The market for influenza products alone was estimated at more than $6 billion for 2010.
About Frederick J. Mancheski
Born in Stevens Point in 1926, Fred Mancheski earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from UW–Madison and began his career with Timken Roller Bearing Co. before joining Echlin as vice president of manufacturing and engineering. He was elected chairman and CEO of the auto parts business in 1969 and under his management, the company’s annual sales increased two hundredfold to more than $3.6 billion.
In addition to his numerous charitable, civic and industry honors, he received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from UW–Madison in 1996.
Since its founding in 1925 to manage a UW–Madison discovery that eventually eliminated the childhood disease rickets, WARF has been working with industry to transform university research into products that benefit society. As a private, nonprofit organization, WARF accomplishes its mission of supporting scientific research by patenting and licensing inventions arising from university discoveries. Since making its first grant of $1,200 in 1928, WARF has contributed more than $1 billion to UW–Madison through annual “margin of excellence” grants and other funding.