Student Startup PathoVax Developing Broad-Spectrum HPV Vaccine
Nicholas Calcaterra, Joshua Wang and Weijie Poh
When they met as graduate students at the JHU Bootcamp for Technology Entrepreneurs, Nicholas Calcaterra, Weijie Poh and Joshua Wang already knew they wanted to apply their knowledge and skills toward improving global health.
“Our motivation to study at Johns Hopkins was our desire to be a part of a world-class, groundbreaking research institution that focuses on developing new technologies to solve medical problems,” Wang says.
Now, with development of their patented, broad-spectrum HPV vaccine well underway, they may soon accomplish what they set out to achieve two years ago in a Johns Hopkins classroom.
Poh and Wang, who earned Ph.D.s from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s pathobiology program last year, and Calcaterra, a Ph.D. graduate student of pharmacology and molecular science at the university, co-founded startup PathoVax LLC in 2014 to commercialize their vaccine, called RGVax, with Poh as interim CEO, Wang as interim chief scientific officer and Calcaterra as interim chief financial officer.
Preclinical models suggest that RGVax can provide protection against at least 27 strains of HPV, including all 15 high-risk cervical cancer-causing types, using technology similar to that of approved HPV vaccines to conserve safety profiles.
“Our goal is to address the devastating economic burden, social stigma, costly manufacturing and poor compliance rates resulting from the incomplete protection of current HPV vaccines,” PathoVax team members state on their website.
Calcaterra, Poh and Wang are in the final stages of licensing RGVax through Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, which provided assistance during the incorporation process. The university’s I-Corps and FastForward Mentors-in-Residence programs provided additional mentoring. David Greenwald, director of corporate partnerships for Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, is one of the company’s advisors.
“Greenwald brings a unique form of insight and mentorship to the table because he started a company as a Ph.D. student and subsequently led it to a successful exit,” says Wang, now a research fellow with the Johns Hopkins Division of Gynecologic Pathology.
Potential investors are already taking note of PathoVax’s advancements toward a comprehensive HPV vaccine. At the beginning of the year, PathoVax was named one of 80 semifinalists—out of more than 750 from around the world—for the OneStart competition, a global life sciences and health care startup accelerator program organized by Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable and SR One, the corporate venture arm of GlaxoSmithKline.
PathoVax was also named Best of the Best at the Mid-Atlantic Bio Angels’ 1st Pitch Life Science event last December. The competition pitted Best in Show winners from regional competitions in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. PathoVax had won Best in Show in the New Jersey competition.
Last fall, Poh, now a research fellow with Dana-Faber Cancer Institute, represented PathoVax in the Innovation Day pitch competition at Harvard University’s Healthcare Innovation and Commercialization workshop. After pitching to a panel of venture capitalists and angel investors, Poh’s team was declared the winner of the competition. Since then, PathoVax has been accepted into Harvard University’s Venture Incubation Program and MassBio’s MassCONNECT program.
In 2014, RGVax advisors and co-inventors Richard Roden, professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Reinhard Kirnbauer, professor of dermatology at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria, received an estimated $5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to accelerate the vaccine toward human clinical testing.
The PathoVax team has also received funding from the TEDCO Maryland Innovation Initiative, and it won first place in both the local medical product category of the 2014 Johns Hopkins University Entrepreneurship Week business competition and the medical technology graduate track of the 2015 Johns Hopkins University Business Plan Competition.
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