ICOoregon Feature Story: 

StoneStable, Inc.

During last year’s Ebola outbreak, the world’s attention was riveted on how quickly a new vaccine could be developed. But an equally crucial question is how existing vaccines can be delivered successfully to rural areas that lack good roads or access to refrigerated vehicles.

StoneStable, Inc., a Portland-based startup company, plans to use technology developed by PSU biology professor and virologist Ken Stedman to address the issue of vaccine wastage. According to a World Health Organization report, over fifty percent of all vaccines are wasted, mainly due to a lack of refrigeration. As biological products, vaccines must be transported at controlled temperatures. If at any time the “cold chain” between production and the final destination is broken, the vaccine quickly becomes ineffective. Yet in many parts of the world, particularly in developing and underdeveloped countries, keeping vaccines cold during transport is impractical, if not impossible. StoneStable believes the solution is to remove refrigeration from the equation.

 In a 2013 New York Times article about his discovery that certain viruses could be “frozen” in silicon dioxide (silica) and later reanimated unharmed, Professor Stedman quipped, “It’s hard to put a fridge on the back of a donkey.” The implication was that if you could suspend a virus in a coating of silica and later return it to its original state, you could do the same with vaccines. That is what StoneStable set out to do. It could change the way vaccines, one of the fastest growing sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, are shipped to clinics and health facilities around the world, eliminating the cold chain, reducing costs, and saving lives.

The StoneStable team includes Rod Pitman and Anant Kumar, along with Dr. Stedman. According to Pitman, an entrepreneur, filmmaker and PSU alum, the goal is to create a product that could be integrated into existing manufacturing processes. The company’s vision is that at a certain stage of production their proprietary technology would be used to encapsulate vaccines in silica, rendering them inert until after being administered when the silica would dissolve in the patient’s bloodstream and the vaccine would “reanimate.” Kumar, company CEO, noted that StoneStable’s goal of developing viable methodologies and disruptive technologies to revolutionize the transport and delivery of vaccines is in line with the WHO’s Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) which aspires to deliver vaccinations to all who need them.

“In this first phase, we’re really focusing on applying our techniques to the influenza vaccine,” Dr. Stedman said. “Here is a vaccine that is highly unstable and really important to public health anywhere you go in the world. The flu kills hundreds of thousands every year. With better ways of getting vaccines to people we could really lower that number.”

StoneStable is still in the early phase of testing and developing the technology, but according to Dr. Stedman, the lab tests have been promising. In the long run, he and the rest of the team would like to apply their methods to other biologics: proteins and other molecules known for being notoriously difficult to transport.

If the World Health Organization is going to reach its global vaccination targets, it will need new ways to more easily and cheaply get these fragile compounds to the populations that need them. The obvious way to achieve that aim is to break the cold chain. By moving innovations developed at PSU by Dr. Stedman from lab to market, StoneStable, Inc. seeks to make that happen.

 

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