by John Ramos

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A small biotech company in South San Francisco is currently working on an oral Ebola vaccine that could provide the key to stemming the outbreak in West Africa.

Vaxart is a company that most people have never heard of, and that included Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

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“Had I not read an article in the newspaper, I wouldn’t have known that they were here,” Speier said.

Vaxart may become an important player in preventing worldwide outbreaks of diseases like Ebola. They have developed a way to put vaccines in tablet form, making their products more stable with a longer shelf life, eliminating the need for cold storage which can be hard to find in poor, developing countries.

“It can be mailed. It can be dropped from helicopters, and could in fact be part of the solution,” Speier said.

And that’s why it’s so surprising that this project was actually shelved back in 2012. The CEO said they just couldn’t find any funding. Private investors didn’t see a profit in it, and governments tend to focus on treating victims.

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“I don’t know the exact numbers but it’s been a sliver of the funds have been made available for vaccine development,” Dr. Wouter Latour, CEO of Vaxart.

Even with funding, getting FDA approval is a slow process. But as the world gets smaller it’s becoming less possible to view disease as something happening over there.

“This is going to happen again and again. So Ebola might come back or the next virus might emerge and this is the ideal platform to respond to those newly emerging threats,” Latour said.

If the company can develop a vaccine for Ebola, it probably wouldn’t be available until 2015 at the earliest.

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