Fluoride Action Network

Cambridge Biostability fails to find cash injection

Source: BusinessWeekly.co.uk | July 29th, 2009 | By Tony Quested
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

Cambridge Biostability, a company working on vaccine technology based on the resurrection plant, has gone bust.

Business Weekly understands that the business has been looking for new funding since February.

It told confidants that it might have enough cash to last to September but has had to call in recovery and insolvency specialists at Peters Elworthy & Moore, which has instituted a creditors’ voluntary liquidation procedure.

PEM was unavailable at the time of writing to clarify whether it was hoping to sell the business, any assets or Intellectual Property – or to comment on the level of debt involved.

Phone lines at Cambridge Biostability’s Science Park headquarters are ringing ‘unobtainable’ and Business Weekly understands that most of the 22 staff have been laid off and only a couple remained until recently to help the insolvency practitioners.

Cambridge Biostability announced in April that its collaboration with AIM-listed bio-pharma company, Lipoxen to develop a flu vaccine that does not need to be refrigerated and can be produced more quickly than the traditional variety had achieved positive preclinical results.

Cambridge Biostability (CBL) won the Cambridge Evening News Business Excellence Award for Innovation in 2005 but in April the same year Business Weekly publicised serious doubts about the business.

We reported that although CBL had won £3m of funding on both sides of the Atlantic to develop a new vaccine technology,it had lost the support of a major backer on the project – PATH.

And PATH, a significant player on the global healthcare scene, told Business Weekly that there were no plans for research collaborations with Cambridge Biostability in other areas.

CBL won funding from the UK and US governments to replace the vaccine cold chain with a thermostable liquid technology, said to be capable of saving millions of children’s lives.

It is based on the resurrection plant, which can stay closed in the desert for years and come to life at the first touch of rain because of the trehalose at its core.

Business Weekly reported the technology in 1990 in an interview with the man behind the business, Dr Bruce Roser. Despite a lot of PR hype, Business Weekly became concerned at an apparent lack of progress in getting these wonderful vaccine advances into patients.

Seattle based PATH – the Program for Appropriate Technologies in Health – shared our concerns. The organisation told Business Weekly reporter Lautaro Vargas that it had wound up its three-year research venture CBL by mutual consent in 2005 after a number of concerns were voiced over the suitability of CBL’s technology for the developing world children’s vaccine market and its potential contribution to global warming.

Dr Roser, pioneer of the technology and listed as a CBL director and chief scientific adviser, insisted that PATH was currently renegotiating a new agreement. PATH said this was not the case.

Dr Roser claimed at the time: “Our initial response to the PATH agreement was very positive. Our first two projects were finished in time and under budget.

“However, following a change in its technical adviser, PATH became very bureaucratic and began to micromanage the research at Biostability and this resulted in a number of delays.

“This began to hold back CBL’s commercial and development activities. The clash of commercial progress with the ethos of NGOs is not an uncommon problem, but one that we are successfully overcoming.

“Biostability suggested to PATH that the original agreement had not worked as we hoped it would and that it should be terminated. PATH agreed to this and suggested that a new, less formal agreement be negotiated. CBL agreed to this and we are currently negotiating a termination agreement and a new technology access agreement.”

PATH denied claims that it was over bureaucratic. And Debra Kristensen, a senior technical officer at PATH, said: “We have no specific plans for any new research with CBL. A mutual decision was made not to pursue future research in mid-February 2005.

“PATH decided to move away from use of fluorochemicals primarily because the burden of proof of safety will be exceptionally high for use of these chemicals in children’s vaccines.

“We also analysed environmental, supply, regulatory, and product cost issues. CBL is interested in a broader group of markets where the risk assessments differ. PATH did not closely evaluate time and cost for future project activities as we decided to pursue other avenues of research instead.”

PATH added that the then CBL director Dr Iain Cubitt had told them Dr Roser’s views were not necessarily representative of the company’s on this issue.

The flurochemicals in question are the perfluorocarbons (PFCs) previously used by CBL to suspend the microparticles, allowing a thermostable vaccine, and is a greenhouse gas. The 12th meeting of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) board said the use of PFCs could not be ignored.

It said: “If applied to only three childhood vaccines, and used worldwide at a dose of 0.5 ml per dose per child, this corresponds to 500,000 litres of PFC, which would be excreted unchanged into the environment.”

CBL claimed it was in the process of overcoming this issue by use of a different flurochemical.