The US company has just started a Phase I clinical programme for the patch-based product, but expects a rapid development with the vaccine hitting the market in three to four years.
Iomai are the current market leaders on flu vaccination using a patch instead of traditional injection by needle - good news for the estimated 10 per cent of population that are estimated to avoid shots because of needle phobia.
Flu vaccination is a money-spinner, with over 100 million vaccinations delivered in the US alone each year. In 2004, a manufacturing glitch caused a flu vaccine shortage and the industry was reminded how important vaccines are in health care.
As an example, GlaxoSmithKline is in the middle of an expansion of their vaccine efforts worldwide. The company has identified flu vaccination as a key focus, and has been buying up companies and technologies in this sector, notably last year's $1.7bn (€1.3bn) purchase of Canadian flu vaccine specialist ID Biomedical. Their intention is to double flu vaccine production by 2008. Novartis also bought into the sector earlier this year through its $5.1bn acquisition of Chiron.
Iomai's patch could carve itself a lucrative foothold in the market as it has several advantages over needles; the vaccine is easily absorbed into the skin by simply using the patch as one would use a 'Band-Aid'. In the event of a pandemic flu outbreak, long distance distribution of vaccine in the US is possible using the mail.
The Iomai flu vaccine uses both influenza antigens and immune-boosting adjuvants to penetrate through the outer layer of dead skin cells. Of the three antigens tested to date, all gave a strong immune response. The dosage and formulation is now in the process of being optimised for Phase I/II trials.
The new delivery method shortens the development time for a vaccine from an average of 15 years to four to five years, according to Iomai, which is also using the technology in the development of a vaccination for travellers'' diarrhoea.