Working to Make Vaccines More Accessible With Silk

June 7, 2012
By Jenny Li Fowler

Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) student Livio Valenti MPP 2013 spearheaded Vaxess Technologies, a company recently named first place winner of Harvard University President Drew Faust’s “President’s Challenge.” The competition was designed to help students develop and execute solutions to several of the world’s most complex systemic problems, like the one Vaxess is taking on – global vaccine access.

Vaxess aims to do this by commercializing a Tufts University platform technology that stabilizes vaccines in a film of silk-derived proteins – eliminating the need to refrigerate vaccines while they’re being shipped and stored around the world. In addition, this technology can be applied to any vaccine.

“20 million newborns are not immunized every year, if we could reach 10% of them in the near future, that would be huge,” said Valenti.

This effort will also give rural, low-income farmers throughout the world a boost. “The beautiful thing about this technology is that it comes from a material that has been around for 10,000 years,” said Valenti. “So instead of using the silk for scarves and items for tourists, we will teach local farmers to cultivate it for a bio-medical reason.”

The Cambridge based company, founded by students from across Harvard, received $70,000 through the “President’s Challenge,” to bring its goal to fruition. Valenti also received a grant through the Kennedy School and the Harvard Global Institute of Health to start a pilot program in Cambodia this summer. He will spend up to six weeks in the south Asian country doing field research.

Harvard Announces the President’s Challenge Winners, Doling Out $100K to Socially Conscious Teams BostInno — While Livio Valenti was working for the United Nations in Cambodia, Tufts University professor Fiorenzo Omenetto was developing technology that stabilizes vaccines using silk protein.

What Omenetto discovered was the silk matrix provides greater stability, eliminating the need for cold-chain transport.

Upon entering Harvard, Valenti took a Commercializing Science course. It was there he shared Omenetto’s story, along with his experience in Cambodia to the rest of the class.

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