Needle-free vaccines for the world are a step closer after Queensland biotech start-up Vaxxas secured 2 major partnerships with international companies.

Vaxxas, a UniQuest spin-out company, will work with Merck and Harro Höfliger to commercialise its HD-MAP technology, which delivers vaccines via a nanopatch covered in thousands of tiny micro-projections.

The Queensland-developed technology has the potential to revolutionise global delivery of vaccines and help combat future pandemics.

Vaxxas Chief Development and Operations Officer Dr Angus Forster said the multimillion-dollar partnership with global pharmaceutical company Merck would support Vaxxas to progress its technology through late-stage clinical trials.

‘Working with Merck means verification of our technology and brings their development expertise and capacity into the project,’ Dr Forster said.

‘The next step for us is into late-stage clinical trials to demonstrate the technology’s benefits and safety on a larger scale.’

The partnership will see Vaxxas receive $18 million from Merck in a combination of equity funding and option fees and be eligible to receive future option, development, and commercial milestone payments.

Vaxxas has also signed an agreement with specialist pharmaceutical automation company Harro Höfliger to develop a manufacturing line able to produce tens of millions of units per week.

Dr Forster said the Harro Höfliger deal would help scale up Vaxxas’ production processes to commercial levels.

‘The additional investment is fantastic as we now need to identify, design and build a new facility to manufacture the nanopatch and the applicator device.

‘If we can set up a manufacturing base in Australia, hopefully in Brisbane, we can supply those components to our partners around the world and ensure manufacturing jobs stay here.’

Unlike typical liquid-based vaccines, the nanopatch allows vaccines to be coated on as a dry powder that does not require refrigeration.

This means the nanopatches can be used safely in remote areas where reliable refrigerated supply chains are not available.

Dr Forster said the ease of use also meant people who aren’t medical professionals could potentially administer vaccines themselves during future pandemics.

‘These vaccine patches could be sent out via the post service with instructions to allow people to vaccinate themselves and their families at home safely.

‘That would mean there’s less need for large groups of people to come to together and that would also let frontline medical staff focus on helping those who require emergency care.’

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss said Vaxxas partnering with 2 major international players to commercialise its technology was a massive boost for Queensland’s biotech industry.

‘Vaxxas’ deals with major international partners show that it’s possible to have a biomanufacturing industry based on high-tech innovation in Queensland that’s competitive,’ Dr Moss said.

‘The ability for our biotech players to partner with global pharmaceutical companies and organisations like WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a huge validation of the Queensland industry’s global presence.’

Dr Forster said the new deals and upcoming projects meant that Vaxxas would be looking at hiring more than 40 new staff in the next 12–18 months, a doubling of current staff numbers.

TIQ has worked with both Vaxxas and UniQuest for many years, with the companies joining the Queensland Government’s annual delegations to the BIO International Convention, the world’s largest biotech event.

The biotech and biomedicine sector is identified as an emerging export strength in the Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017–2022.