IMI: To start with, could you tell us a bit about your company?
Vibalogics offers services to companies developing new live vaccines for infectious diseases such as Ebola, or therapeutic biologicals for the treatment of cancer. It’s a family-owned company, based in Germany, and so far we have about 40 employees with strong growth during the last two years. We specialise in developing and manufacturing live viral and bacterial vaccines, and share this niche with only a few companies in the world.
IMI: Why did you decide to apply for this IMI project?
I attended a presentation at the end of 2014, where I learned for the first time that IMI was planning to set up the Ebola+ programme. It was launched two weeks later. I looked at the Call and noticed that it could fit perfectly into what our company offers. We contacted the IMI Programme Office in Brussels and identified potential partners like Janssen - they were quite happy when we approached them.
IMI: Was it difficult to apply for this IMI grant?
Yes, the application process was difficult to some extent. We have not participated in H2020 or IMI projects in the past, so this was all quite new for us. There was also a tough timeline, only four weeks to prepare and submit the proposal. We have to thank our industrial partners, Janssen in particular, for helping us out with the application process. It would have not been possible without them.
IMI: What is the purpose of your project and what have you achieved until now?
When it comes to live vaccines, there is quite a limited manufacturing capacity for commercial purposes, i.e. the production of 100 000 vials or more. However, the situation is even more dramatic when it comes to the production of live vaccines for clinical trials where you need only about 30 000 vials. We set out to fill that gap.
As part of the EBOMAN project, we built a new vaccine filling line, which has the capability of producing batch sizes of 30 000 vials in less time than before. The filling line is now fully tested and validated, and able to produce live vaccines more quickly and in the right amount for clinical trials. Even though the Ebola outbreak has died down, we can expect other outbreaks in the future, for example, it could be the Zika virus. Thanks to our new filling line, we are more prepared to tackle such outbreaks.
IMI: How did your business benefit from participating in this IMI project?
This was a highly valuable experience for us. Firstly, we have been very proud to have been selected for this grant – this honours all the work we have done in the past to establish our company in this niche. Participating in IMI triggered and accelerated the expansion of our business and it brought us more customers. It also helped us to establish new partnerships and increased our visibility on a global level. All taken together, it has been very beneficial for us.
IMI: What advice would you give to other SMEs interested in applying for IMI Calls?
Our advice to other SMEs interested in applying to IMI consortia is: Do it. We had the fortune to be part of a great consortium and our communication with IMI was always very constructive. However, if you apply, you should make sure that your company meets a specific demand which is wanted within the Call. It doesn’t make sense to make a proposal which looks artificial. You should apply only if there is a good fit. Also, if you’re applying for the first time, try to find strong partners who already have experience with IMI projects.