Research Engine

Writing the next chapter at EpiVax

The move to a new location in Olneyville, the firm’s 20th anniversary, and the closing on $1.2 million in bridge funding for the spinoff, EpiVax Oncology, are all good reasons to celebrate

Photo by Richard Asinof

Clifford Grimm, left, and William Martin, of EpiVax, at the new office location in Olneyville.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 6/11/18
The move to its new location in Olneyville marks the beginning of the next chapter for EpiVax, which recently closed on bridge funding for its new spinoff, EpiVax Oncology.
If EpiVax is moving out, who will be moving into the new Wexford Innovation Complex? Does the EpiVax business model, as a kind of organically grown business, make more sense than the current economic development model of importing businesses to Rhode Island? Who is tracking the changing real estate market in the Jewelry District and in Olneyville? In attracting talent, how important is the quality of life in the workplace?
The effort to connect workplaces to the communities where they are located in an ongoing relationship represents a fundamental change in perspective from the concept of the work environment being separate from the community.

PROVIDENCE – This week, in two separate events on Friday, June 15 and on Saturday, June 16, EpiVax will officially celebrate the move from its former location in the Jewelry District to its spacious new digs in Olneyville, on the fourth floor of the Rising Sun Mills complex.

With its numerous tall windows, the workspace at the new headquarters is awash with natural light, creating an entirely different ambience from the company’s previous cramped offices.

As one of Rhode Island’s pioneering biotech firms, EpiVax will also be celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend, a remarkable testament to the staying power of the firm as it has navigated the often choppy, disruptive waters of the life sciences industry.

At Bio2018 in Boston last week, EpiVax was one of a small number of exhibiting companies from Rhode Island sharing its story under the hashtag, #WhyRI, joined by Wexford, CommerceRI, Brown University and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, among others.

The relatively small company has achieved a global stature for its scientific research and its proprietary immuno-informatics technology.

The experiences of EpiVax at Bio2018 reflected that stature. “I always look forward to learning new science, to meeting the CEO or CSO of the next jigsaw piece of a company taking its place in the puzzle that is biotechnology, and to meeting the many old friends that we have in the business by now,” said Dr. Annie De Groot, CEO and CSO of EpiVax.

Good news
In an interview last week with Clifford Grimm, managing director, and Bill Martin, CIO and COO of EpiVax, the two shared the good news that the company had closed on its initial funding round for a new spinoff, EpiVax Oncology, focused on developing personalized cancer vaccines, raising $1.2 million in bridge funding.

“We will be going to the FDA in July for a pre-investigational new drug meeting,” Martin said.

Improving human health everywhere
When asked how the move to Olneyville showcased the ways in which the company has matured, grown and evolved over the past two decades, De Groot responded: “The move to Olneyville reflects our ‘improving human health everywhere’ approach to business.”

Because the company is privately held, De Groot said, “We can make conscious choices that reflect our core values, even if some of those choices may involve some risk.”

The move to Olneyville was the right choice for many reasons, De Groot continued. “We are a company that wants to do good work, whether here in Providence or in the larger world,” she said, stressing the importance of keeping that mission in mind.

“That means thinking about where we might have a positive impact on the community through direct engagement or simply by being present,” De Groot said.

Among the advantages presented by EpiVax’s new Olneyville location were the wealth of non-profit work that the firm can participate in, the steadily improving Woonasquatucket River Greenway that borders the Rising Sun Mills property, and the opportunities to mentor and inspire Olneyville residents to engage in the new STEAM economy – science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, according to De Groot.

From a practical standpoint, Martin acknowledged that the Jewelry District had gotten to be very expensive. “When we first moved in, the Jewelry District was cheap. It was no longer cheap, relative to Olneyville. It may be cheap relative to Cambridge, Mass.,” he said.

Leaving the Jewelry District
In weighing the decision to move to Olneyville, De Groot said the company did not feel that continuing EpiVax’s presence in the Jewelry District would have as much of an impact as they might have in a more “developing” area of the city.

Whether or not there was something to lose by moving out of the Jewelry District, De Groot continued, depended upon what the future “slant” of the Jewelry District development becomes. In her opinion, “The current slant appears to be more about Tech and Apps with a focus on making a fast buck and not so much on science to improve human health.”

If anything, De Groot said, “What we gain, as creative life scientists, by moving out of the ‘make a fast buck’ zone, is the serenity of moving into a space where we can be creative humans and work hard to give back.”

A long-term approach
As Martin explained EpiVax’s approach, the major core business is still consulting. “We’ve been spending the better part of 20 years learning how to make vaccines,” he said, employing the firm’s immuno-informatics technology.

As a result, EpiVax has been able to control its own future, creating a successful path in which it was able to preserve the ownership of the company and the immuno-informatic technology.

“As we matured,” De Groot said, “we realized that we did not fail, in any way, as a company, if we didn’t become ‘venture-backed’ and sold to the highest bidder. Instead, we succeeded in a much more substantive way: we succeeded in developing a company where people and creativity are valued, and where human relationships [with both clients and collaborators] matter.”

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