By Karen Young

Receiving a painful vaccine using needles could be a thing of the past, if Vaxin Inc. is able to bring its topical vaccines to market with its EasyVax technology.

Vaxin, of Birmingham, Ala., was founded in 1997 by De-chu Tang, who began doing testing of topical vaccines with animals in 1996 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The next year, he published a paper in Nature based on his findings, resulting in a great deal of interest and the formation of the company, for which he now serves as vice president and chief technical officer. Tang also is a researcher in the medical school at UAB, where the technology was developed.

¿The beauty of it is its simplicity,¿ said Tang, noting that his research suggests that topical vaccines are not only painless, they also are more effective than vaccines delivered by needle.

Vaxin, which has 10 employees, has developed experimental vaccines against influenza, tetanus and breast cancer. There also are topical vaccines under development for malaria, dengue fever, tetanus and rabies.

In the past few months, Vaxin has been the recipient of a number of grants and is expecting FDA approval to proceed with human clinical trials in early 2002. If the human trials go well, Vaxin President Kent Van Kampen said he thinks they can bring the product to market in five years, because the company will not be dealing with some of the side effects inherent with injectable vaccines.

Thus far, the company has received seed financing from Emerging Technology Partners, of Birmingham, and Series A financing through Paradigm Venture Partners, also in Birmingham, totaling $1.7 million. To date, Vaxin has received more than $4 million in federal grants, according to Van Kampen.

In terms of grants, the Office of Naval Research, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, appropriated $3.5 million in June for research to be directed by Tang at the Vectored Vaccine Laboratory at UAB.

Vaxin¿s topical vaccines technology involves applying vectors to the skin and covering them with a patch. The company maintains that many of the vaccines under development would be particularly important for military personnel, who often must travel to tropical locales.

The company was awarded a $282,625 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for research toward developing the technology for a vaccine patch for tetanus. It also has received $69,700 through a Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop a DNA needleless vaccine to combat dengue fever.

Vaxin also has entered into an agreement with Crucell NV, of Leiden, the Netherlands, to jointly create topical human vaccines. One of the target vaccines for the agreement is rabies, which it says kills 60,000 to 80,000 in Asia each year. A second vaccine will be designated by Crucell¿s discovery team. The joint agreement will use Vaxin¿s skin delivery system, EasyVax, with Crucell¿s human cell line PER.C6, which is derived from a single source of healthy, human cells. Research will be conducted in both Birmingham and Leiden.