Peek inside the Space Coast vaccine lab working to create humanity’s moonshot

ORLANDO, Fla. — “Space vaccines,” might sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but for the dozens of scientists working at a Brevard County lab, it’s just one of the many test tubes scattered throughout the building.


The company, Vaxxinity, has occupied its ground-floor office space for just two years. Workers still remember walking into rooms filled with sticky notes, wondering why anyone would want to build a pharmaceutical company next to rocket launch pads.

Boston, they said, was the hub of the industry. By comparison, Central Florida was a biotech desert.

Fast forward to today and to the many machines, equipment and chemicals bubbling and sloshing round as people in white lab coats carefully measure and label them. They represent possible breakthroughs to combat Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, high cholesterol and muscle and bone degeneration – the project that has been given the buzzy “space vaccine” name.

“The science that we’re doing here is kind of the stuff of dreams,” Madeline Vroom said, citing the high risk of a person contracting cholesterol or memory problems as they age. “To be working on therapeutics that could have such a big impact on so many people, there’s nothing better than that.”

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Vroom and other Vaxxinity scientists spend their days analyzing peptides, or chemicals that train an immune system to respond to an issue in the body. Their goal is to find the peptide that can be turned into a vaccine against the degenerative diseases.

The lab equipment can produce dozens of peptides at a time. It takes a year to identify the single peptide that’s a candidate for a vaccine, and then another 18 months of testing on animals to study the peptide’s safety before it can be tried on a single human.

Once it’s green lit, they can move on to small-scale human trials that analyze the peptide for safety, and then additional small trials that begin to measure the vaccine’s efficacy. They’ve already begun such trials with their Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s vaccines, both with promising results.

“It’s really come together over the last year,” Vroom said.

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Even with the backing of the University of Florida, Vaxxinity is too small to take on the large-scale trials that will be needed before a product can receive regulatory approval. For now, the team’s job is to come up with the research to hand off to a bigger company that can afford to spend the half a billion dollars it takes to get a vaccine over the finish line.

It isn’t stopping Executive Chairman Lou Reese from dreaming bigger.

“You save the world trillions of dollars a year in global health care costs, and you eliminate an untold amount of unnecessary suffering,” he said, smiling. “I tell everybody I know that I have super modest goals for the company. I want it to have the largest impact on human health of any company ever.”

Vroom, who was hired upon graduating from a local university, said she was proud to be able to show off her quickly growing lab and the work it takes to produce success in a research field that constantly battles doubts and conspiracy theories.

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“I wish the general public knew just how much work goes into vetting these products, even in the very early stages,” she said. “It just shows that… as a scientist and in the medical field we need to do a better job communicating with people.”

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