In this interview we meet Mei Mei Hu, CEO and Co-Founder of Vaxxinity. She joined us at the Congress to explore the ideas of using vaccines to tackle chronic diseases and what supply and access lessons we have learnt. We were thrilled to catch up with her about her vision for “putting the tech in biotech” and democratising health. We hope you enjoy the interview!
Tell us about Vaxxinity
Mei Mei kindly gave us a bit of background to Vaxxinity, which is only 2 years old. Formed as a union between United Neuroscience and COVAXX, the team is now a “vaccine-dedicated company for any pandemic or epidemic that comes up”. As CEO, Mei Mei believes it is her job to ensure that everyone has what they need to do their job better.
Challenges for vaccine development
With all vaccines there are unique challenges associated with developing and deploying them. The team at Vaxxinity are tackling chronic diseases, which is “not a new concept”. However, it is a challenging one, Mei Mei says.
“Our body is very smart, so it doesn’t like to attack itself.”
Overcoming “immune tolerance” is key to encouraging the body to produce antibodies against the endogenous proteins associated with chronic diseases.
Effects of the pandemic
Many of the experts we spoke to have experienced some changes in their work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Mei Mei and her team, “early learnings” were accelerated.
“It also just highlighted our vision and brought a lot more focus on vaccines.”
Previously, vaccines existed in a poorly understood “blue ocean”, but thanks to the role they played in the pandemic, “everyone and their family knows what a vaccine is”.
Leading the field
As a young and energised team, Vaxxinity is hoping to “put the tech in biotech”. We asked Mei Mei what it is like to invigorate the vaccine community with innovation, and how she intends to stay ahead of the pack.
“One thing I love about tech is that they dream big.”
Biotech also “goes after really innovative technologies” but the mission is slightly different. Vaxxinity’s doing this too, but the overall purpose is “how can we democratise health”. In terms of leading the field, Mei Mei acknowledges that her team is using “breakthrough technologies”, but also trying to “reimagine” them.
“Can you reimagine a vaccine that can prevent chronic diseases as well? So, wouldn’t that be awesome?”
Access at the centre
Much of what was discussed at the event this year explored the importance of access, sustainability, or both. A vaccine is only useful when effectively deployed. Therefore, we asked Mei Mei how she and her team think about this.
“Access, and sustainability, they are the core of why we do what we do.”
Mei Mei recognises that monoclonal antibodies for chronic disease exist, which is “great for the most part”. However, they are “expensive”, “burdensome”, and “limited in how many people they can serve”.
“Access is our total mission, and that’s why we’re using vaccine technology.’
Why WVC Washington?
It’s always great to understand why our vaccine specialists join us at the event, and Mei Mei kindly shared her intentions for the few days.
“I think there’s a lot of challenging to the conventional thinking out there, and what better place to do it than at the World Vaccine Congress.”
Thank you so much to Mei Mei for her time and insights at what is always a busy event! We look forward to sharing more interviews over the next few weeks, so do make sure that you have subscribed to our weekly newsletter.