Seal of approval: Vical licenses DNA delivery technology to academics
SAN DIEGO—Vical Inc. announced that it entered into nonexclusive academic licensing agreements that codify use of its DNA delivery technology at four research institutions: Stanford University, Harvard University, Yale University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The license covers unsponsored academic research and enables scientists to use Vical’s techniques free-of-charge for internal educational and noncommercial research purposes.
The license covers the company's DNA vaccine patents, says Vijay Samant, Vical's president and CEO, and is important because it makes official any use of Vical technology at the four institutions, enabling research while cautioning researchers that intellectual property is "not to be taken lightly." Samant adds that "what you don't want to do is sit on an intellectual property" and prevent progress, because "more people work on it, and more things come out of it." Now that Vical has brought the agreement to four big centers of biology in terms of private research, Samant says Vical now has the ability to go after the other players.
The universities gain access to intellectual property that Vical owns jointly with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) under "a pretty long agreement" that continues until the last patent ends, says Samant. He expects universities to use the technology for a variety of purposes, including creating vaccines, antibodies, and proteins. Vical will review, on a case-by-case basis, any potential commercial applications that institutions might develop with Vical's methodology, and Samant says: "We have the opportunity to license it exclusively." He stressed that the company will not grandfather violators or researchers who work in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies.
Vical's licensing, says Navdeep Jaikaria, a managing director and senior biotechnology analyst who covers Vical for Rodman & Renshaw, is a "very clever strategy" because academics would investigate uses of Vical's technology platform, "saving [Vical] the expense and the time and the resources that they would have to divert." Jaikaria believes that agreements like Vical's are few and far between, but praises Vical for protecting its intellectual property while tapping into the creative freedom that he thinks academic research can bring to the challenges of DNA delivery, which he calls "clearly, a cutting-edge of science."
Although Jaikaria says that Vical would have rights to products developed using its techniques even if a university did not have authorization to use them, he believes "this is the right way to do it." At stake is Vical's method for using plasmids to deliver DNA into cell nuclei without using viral vectors, which Samant says can cause immune responses in patients.
"We have not seen any immune response against the vector itself," he says, even in clinical trial patients who have received up to 20 injections of Allovectin, a melanoma vaccine. Vical pipeline products are "getting close to human validation," says Samant, and have been used "for almost eight years now in various human trials. It has been extremely well tolerated." Other Vical targets include SARS, avian flu, and anthrax.