OTT30: 1st Start-up Investment

Universities are known as centers for scholarship and discovery, but can they also be investors? Looking at GeoVax Labs, Inc., a 2001 Emory start-up that later went on to become the first company the university invested in, the answer to that question may very well be yes.

Even today, many universities are hesitant to invest in their start-up companies. The reasons for this are twofold: first, a start-up is a risk. Like their name suggests, start-ups are just getting started, so typically there isn’t an extensive history of the company to give the investors added confidence. Secondly, there is the issue of time.  For a start-up, seeing actual results can be a long way away from the present. “Emory made a monetary investment in GeoVax understanding that we may never see a return on it,” says GeoVax Case Manager, Cliff Michaels. “But [Emory] knew it would be an important company with a product that could have profound global impact, and perhaps, an opportunity for Emory to recoup its investment.”

OTT30 Celebration GraphicFounded by Dr. Harriet Robinson, formerly of Emory, GeoVax is a pharmaceutical company aimed at creating a vaccine for HIV. The vaccine the company has been developing involves a two-step vaccination process: first, there is the DNA-based priming vaccine, which then is followed at a later time by a 2nd “booster” vaccination based upon a modified vaccinia ankara vector (MVA). Ultimately, there are two different applications GeoVax hopes to fulfill with their vaccine: protecting at risk populations from contracting the virus, and second, therapeutically treating those who already are infected with HIV, aiding them in managing their viral load.

Currently, GeoVax is working hand-in-hand with NIH’s HIV Vaccine Clinical Trials Network towards FDA approval; currently their vaccine is Phase II clinical trials. “HIV vaccines have been a tough field, fraught with many failures,” says Geovax Case Manager Cliff Michaels. “It is a credit to both the inventors and the company that this technology still looks promising and continues moving forward toward approval.”

To learn more about Emory’s start-up portfolio refer to our website here.