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StoneStable, Inc.
StoneStable, Inc.

 

StoneStable, Inc. is a Portland-based startup company with close ties to Portland State University and plans to use technology developed by Professor Ken Stedman to address the issue of vaccine wastage. According to a World Health Organization report over fifty percent of all vaccines are wasted. A major factor contributing to the loss is lack of refrigeration. As biological products, vaccines must be transported at controlled temperatures. If at any point in time the “cold chain” between the production line and the final destination is broken, the vaccine quickly becomes ineffective. The difficulty is that in many parts of the world, particularly in developing and underdeveloped countries, maintaining a cold chain is impractical, if not altogether impossible. StoneStable believes the solution is to remove refrigeration from the equation.

It was nearly a year and a half ago that PSU biology professor and virologist Ken Stedman quipped, “It’s hard to put a fridge on the back of a donkey,” in a New York Times article about his discovery that certain viruses could be “frozen” in silicon dioxide (silica) and reanimated unharmed, at a later time. The implication was that if you could suspend a virus in a coating of silica and return it to its original state later, you could do the same with vaccines. That is precisely 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.

StoneStable, Inc. is Rod Pitman, Anant Kumar, and Dr. Stedman. According to Pitman, an entrepreneur, filmmaker and PSU alum, the idea is to create a product that could be integrated into existing manufacturing processes. The company’s vision is that at a certain stage in production their proprietary technology would be used to encapsulate vaccines in silica, rendering them inert until after administration when the silica would dissolve in the patient’s bloodstream and the reanimated vaccine take effect. 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.

“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, Dr. Stedman and the rest of the StoneStable team would like to expand their methodologies to include other biologics: proteins and other molecules known for being notoriously difficult to transport.

If the World Health Organization is going to reach its goal of vaccinating the population of the world, it will need new technologies that reduce vaccine wastage and make it easier and more cost effective to transport 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.