There are more than 150 different types of Human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection. Some of the high-risk HPV types can cause cancer, and WHO recommends HPV vaccines to prevent infection. However, currently marketed vaccines target far from all HPV types that is implicated in cancer, or the over 120 HPV types associated with other disfiguring and burdensome diseases. The incomplete protection lead to a huge economic burden, social stigma, and vaccinated individuals remain at risk of developing these diseases.
The Baltimore, Maryland-based startup PathoVax is determined to address this by developing a universal HPV vaccine. Founded by Nicholas Calcaterra, Joshua Wang and Weijie Poh, PathoVax’s prototype vaccine, RGVax, has in pre-clinical animal studies shown to protect against at least 27 HPV types, including all high-risk cervical cancer causing types. However, they strongly believe they are able to develop a vaccine to address all clinically relevant HPV types, potentially a remarkable boost in protection against associated diseases.
This boost suggest a significant saving in manufacturing, a huge potential in increasing access to HPV vaccines. Current vaccines are available in most parts of Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA, but vaccination at scale in low-income and some middle-income countries is only available with substantial subsidies. In addition, the RGVax could be marketed as a general health vaccine to decrease stigma and increase compliance rates. In many countries, including the USA, many see the current HPV vaccines as an “anti-STD” prophylactic that promote promiscuity. As a result, many doctors are hesitant to recommend HPV vaccines.
Most importantly, the new technology from PathoVax provide a unique opportunity to protect both girls and boys from all high-risk cancer-causing HPV types, as well as other disease causing types. The vaccine could prevent millions of people from contracting HPV, lowering overall healthcare costs. And although the vaccine is still in the early phases, it uses a proven vaccine platform, making it likely to share safety profile with current approved HPV vaccines.
Potential investors are already taking note of PathoVax’s technology, and they were named a finalist in the OneStart competition, a global life science and healthcare startup accelerator program. The startup was also named Best in Show and Best of the Best at the 1st Pitch Life Science Competition, and has been accepted into Harvard University’s Venture Incubation Program and MassBio’s MassCONNECT program.