Income from that licensing deal was used to finance the launch of FinaBio in 2006. The Rockville, Maryland-based company’s mission is to bolster the capabilities of emerging market vaccine manufacturers to make affordable protein polysaccharide conjugates for use in their vaccines. Despite Lees’ lack of business experience, FinaBio has been fortunate to secure partnerships with multiple companies and organizations, including the Serum Institute of India and PATH, as well as several Institutes in China. Each of these vaccine-focused organizations has licensed conjugation chemistry that links the antigen to the protein for their vaccine programs. Since its launch, FinaBio has become one of the premier providers of conjugate vaccine laboratory and consulting services in the world. FinaBio has also developed a unique E. coli expression system and used it to produce a low-cost version of the protein component used in conjugate vaccines
“One of my focuses since beginning the company is I want to help make the conjugate vaccines more affordable. They are expensive and complex to manufacture, but they save lives,” Lees said.
Instead of seeking to reap significant profits from the chemistry the seven-person team at FinaBio develops, Lees said they set the price as low as possible. As the sole owner of FinaBio, a company that he calls “not-for-much-profit,” Lees explained that they are not trying to make money to suit investors, only enough to keep the company successful.
“I call it appropriate pricing,” said Lees, a Johns Hopkins Distinguished Alumnus.
A significant portion of the company’s business is through contract conjugation work. Additionally, the company makes modified dextrans used in laboratory work.
One of Lees’ business strategies is to form collaborative relationships with both companies and institutions like the National Institutes of Health to develop vaccines. That collaborative approach is one of the reasons that Lees opted to launch FinaBio in Maryland. He said the state’s strong ecosystem that includes pharma giants such as GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, as well as federal institutions like the NIH and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, makes Maryland an ideal place to conduct biotechnology business.
Not only does Maryland have a vibrant life sciences ecosystem that fosters camaraderie, but Lees simply enjoys the area in Montgomery County. He is able to ride his bicycle to work most days and walk around to “see the fruits of the biotech community” and talk with other scientists in the life sciences ecosystem.
“We have a really nice community here. It’s more affordable than the other major biotech hubs in the U.S. and there’s just so much talent about,” he said.