HilleVax specializes in the advancement and commercialization of novel vaccines as a powerful means to address health inequalities and equalize care for patients around the world. The promising young company stems from a collaboration between Frazier Healthcare and Takeda, and aims to continue the development of HIL-214, a promising virus-like particle vaccine candidate for norovirus that is now in Phase II clinical trials. Dr Erika Olson, Senior Scientist in the company’s Clinical Assay Group, explained: “There is currently no vaccine or treatment for norovirus, despite it being the leading cause of viral acute gastroenteritis worldwide. At HilleVax, our mission is to change that with HIL-214, which is currently the most advanced norovirus vaccine candidate. This work is built on the legacy of our late co-founder Dr Tadataka Yamada, who was a champion of vaccines as a powerful means of addressing health inequalities, and was passionate about the potential of HIL-214 to meet the global need for a norovirus vaccine.”
The start of life-changing research
HilleVax previously exclusively worked with contract research organizations, but the company is now in the process of setting up its own laboratory to accelerate vaccine development and broaden its capabilities. Erika elaborated: “HilleVax is in a unique position as a start-up that was established on the foundations of leading vaccine developers with an existing Phase II asset, so the team is excited to hit the ground running with our research. This will include extensive exploratory work to accelerate HIL-214 to licensure, including investigating immune responses, optimizing production costs, and examining its efficacy against current and potential future strains of norovirus. Of course, we need the space and resources to conduct this work and continue to grow, so we are very eager to equip our own laboratory with everything we need to get started.”
Accelerating norovirus vaccine development
Erika and her team were researching liquid handling products when they applied for the ‘INTEGRA supports start-ups’ competition, which concluded in April 2023. Erika explained: “I have always had great experiences working with INTEGRA products in the past; the pipettes are ergonomic, easy to program, and work beautifully every time. So when I discovered that INTEGRA was running a giveaway to empower start-ups working on high impact technologies, I applied right away, believing strongly that HilleVax would tick all the boxes.”
The company won the full complement of 50 EVOLVE manual pipettes, along with $1000 worth of ECO rack GRIPTIPS and lab accessories, which will be used across several areas, including research and development, analytics and manufacturing. Erika continued: “Having access to a broad pipetting volume range will help to ensure that we obtain the highest quality of results, and the GRIPTIPS give us confidence that the tips are securely attached. I am most excited about the benefits these products will bring for ergonomics. Many of my colleagues in this field either suffer with carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive pipetting, or regularly perform exercises to prevent its onset. The ability of EVOLVE pipettes to switch from the lowest to the highest volume in just a few clicks is a very unique aspect that – along with lightweight design and low tip attachment and ejection forces – significantly improves ergonomics to reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries.”
“As we continue to grow, we are keen to fully outfit our lab with INTEGRA’s top-of-the-line pipetting technologies, and are already in talks with INTEGRA about its electronic pipettes and semi-automation offerings. This would speed up our research to better understand HIL-214 and the benefits that it can bring to patients, as well as other potential vaccines in the future. We are really excited to get started and put the pipettes to work,” Erika concluded.