by William Skink
A little Missoula biotech startup by the name of Inimmune recently got a 2 million dollar grant for developing new ways to deliver vaccines. Two years ago this same startup, along with the University of Montana, received a 5.4 million dollar grant to develop vaccines against bacterial infections. From the link:
The University of Montana has received a $5.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help develop a vaccine against bacterial infection.
The principal investigator on the five-year award, titled “Immunization against filamentous bacteriophages to prevent bacterial infection,” is Patrick Secor, assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at UM.
Other investigators on the award include Dr. Jay Evans from UM and Inimmune, a start-up located in UM’s business incubator, MonTEC; David Burkhart and Kendal Ryter from Inimmune; Paul Bollyky and Gina Suh from Stanford University; and Chandan Sen, Sashwati Roy and Valerie Bergdall from Ohio State University. The team’s goal is to develop a vaccine to prevent infections caused by the common bacteria pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
P. aeruginosa is a deadly pathogen and a major cause of infections in diabetic wounds, lungs and other settings. Due to extensive antibiotic resistance, it is increasingly difficult to treat infections once they are established. Although it is ideal to vaccinate at-risk patients against P. aeruginosa before they develop infections, there are no approved vaccines to prevent infection.
Yes, instead of dealing with the unhealthiness of our food supply, like the insane use of high fructose corn syrup, millions of dollars are directed to things like vaccinating people against side-effect infections from core illnesses like diabetes.
And now Inimmune will get millions more in grant funding to further develop a new way to deliver vaccines to us guinea pigs and to deliver profits to its co-founder, David Burkhart.
So where did Inimmune come from? I did a little digging and found this:
MISSOULA, Mont. – Eighteen months after GlaxoSmithKline shuttered its vaccine research and development facility in Hamilton, Mont. and laid off about two dozen people, some of those jobs have returned to The Treasure State thanks to a new biotech startup partnered with the University of Montana.
The new startup is called Inimmune Corp. and its employees have a deep history working on vaccines at the former GSK site. Inimmune currently employs 22, many of which are from the former GSK vaccine facility, including its leadership team . The company is helmed by Jay Evans, who spent 15 years working at GSK’s vaccine facility. While at the Hamilton facility, Evans held several positions, including North American Pre-Clinical Innovation Team Leader, Project Leader and Investigator. Along with Evans, the company’s leadership includes David Burkhart, who also spent eight years at GSK leading the formulation R&D team. Inimmune said it expects to expand the number of its employees to at least 25 by the end of the year.
Why Hamilton? Because it has a Biosafety Level 4 lab called Rocky Mountain Labs. Here is a brief history of how RML came to be:
Although the construction of the first building of The Rocky Mountain Labs was completed in 1928, RML evolved as a result of research on Rocky Mountain spotted fever that began around 1900, in the Bitterroot Valley of Western Montana. Early settlers of the valley were plagued with a deadly disease of unknown origin that seemed to be concentrated on the west side of the Bitterroot River.
It was known locally as “black measles” because of its severe dark rash, and folk wisdom of the day suggested that infection occurred from drinking the melted snow water that gushed out of the west side canyons during spring runoff. Fatal in nearly 4 out of 5 adult cases, local residents appealed to the state governor for help.
Montana had been granted statehood in 1889, and in 1901, the Montana State Board of Health was created. Its first priority was to bring health scientists to the Bitterroot Valley to investigate the cause, treatment and prevention of spotted fever. During the next three decades a memorable cast of characters was engaged in a drama that provided an interesting chapter in the annals of medical history.
While this history is interesting, I’m more interested in learning more about the kind of people who work for a company like GlaxoSmithKline. I wonder what Jay Evans and David Burkhart would have to say about getting a paycheck from a company that does shady shit like this (Forbes, 2012):
This morning, GlaxoSmithKline announced a $3 billion criminal settlement with the Department of Justice to settle accusations that it didn’t tell regulators about safety problems with an infamous drug, marketed other medicines for uses for which they were not approved and might not have been safe, and took various steps that may have increased the amount of medicine it sold and the price of that medicine in ways that were not legal.
Is it possible to work for Big Pharma and retain one’s soul? I don’t know. Ask Jay Evans and David Burkhart, two guys who are going to make lots of money on this global pandemic.