Robert T. McNally, president and CEO of GeoVax Labs Inc., is perhaps one of the country’s first biomedical engineers. With a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, McNally also has a history of starting successful companies. McNally has taken the Emory University biotech incubator company from a start-up to the same playing field as some of world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies.
“I am a serial entrepreneur,” said McNally, who co-founded Kennesaw-based CryoLife and now-disbanded Cell Dynamics.
Until October 2009, GeoVax was located in two doublewide trailers in the Emory University parking lot. The company now leases an 8,400-square-foot building on Lake Park Drive off Cobb Parkway near Windy Hill Road.
The company was created by Emory, which still has a 27 percent stake in it, to pursue the research and development of the vaccine developed by chief scientific officer Dr. Harriet Robinson, who co-founded the company with Don Hildebrand.
After Hildebrand’s retirement, McNally, who had been an early investor and was serving on the company’s board of directors, was asked to take over as CEO.
“I jumped all over it,” McNally said.
GeoVax’s vaccines address the HIV strain responsible for 3.1 million HIV/AIDS cases in North and South America and Western Europe. The company has developed a vaccine to prevent HIV in uninfected humans exposed to the virus and another for use in HIV-infected humans to supplement approved drug regimens. GeoVax holds six patents on its technology.
Forty-eight subjects are undergoing clinical trials with the company’s second-generation HIV vaccine.
“There is no approved HIV vaccine anywhere in the world,” said McNally. He adds that the yearly revenue potential for a vaccine exceeds $8 billion.
Five major biopharmaceutical companies are pursuing the development of a HIV/AIDS vaccine. One of those companies, Sanofi, released its recent trial results this week, reporting a 31 percent protection rate against infection.
“While this (31 percent) is not robust protection and thus not commercializable, it paved the way for other prime/boost combination vaccines like GeoVax as being on the right track,” McNally said. “The GeoVax data gives a firm indication we should have an effective vaccine that exceeds what Sanofi was able to achieve.”
GeoVax’s recent pre-clinical primate study with its HIV preventive vaccine showed enough success to warrant an $80 million clinical trial planned for 2014.
The company has also recently received approval to conduct a 2013 clinical trial on its therapeutic vaccine that will be combined with the subject’s HIV oral medications in 18- to 24-year-olds who are infected with HIV.
According to McNally, the publicly traded company primarily operates on government funding from a $20 million, five-year grant awarded in 2007. The company has $2.5 million remaining from the original grant. In addition, stock offerings help to fund the company’s $4 million to $5 million annual operating costs. With just 13 employees, GeoVax has 12,000 shareholders.
Charles Craig, president of Georgia Bio, says GeoVax exemplifies Georgia’s industry leadership in creating innovative medicines.
“Dr. McNally is the rare biotech CEO who is both an accomplished scientist and business manager,” Craig said. “Dr. McNally has the experience and expertise to lead GeoVax in creating the world’s first HIV/AIDS vaccine, a milestone that much larger, multi-national pharmaceutical companies have been unable to accomplish.”