October 20, 2015
After a number of years of dormancy, Philadelphia biotech company AVAX Technologies plans to relaunch its ambitions with the appointment of a new CEO, Adele Sommerfeld.
Founded in 1990, AVAX was a “pioneer” in the realm of cancer immunotherapy vaccines, says Sommerfeld. This kind of treatment is “individualized, personalized cancer medicine” that uses the patient’s own tumor cells to spur an immune response against the cancer.
However, the company “was in a holding pattern because of the nuclear winter in the biotech markets,” said Sommerfeld, referring to the Great Recession.
“When the capital markets go dry, the companies really don’t have any funding…Now that immunotherapy is very favorable in the capital markets, it’s time to relaunch it and get it back out there and try to get it refinanced,” she said.
Another development that has allowed the company to move forward is the settlement of a lawsuit. This September a federal judge ordered AVAX to pay $5.8 million to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America over a breach of contract suit, as Law360 reported.
“That should not be an issue moving forward, given it’s been settled,” said Sommerfeld.
A native of Canada, Sommerfeld brings with her 25 years of experience in practically every aspect of the biotech industry, including experience in equity financing, corporate strategy, venture capital and business development. She got her MBA and a Master's degree in molecular genetics from the University of Toronto.
The company has two vaccines in clinical development for melanoma and late-stage ovarian cancer as well as an FDA-approved production facility.
“They have the wherewithal, they have the production capability,” said Sommerfeld.
In a region where only 14 percent of CEOs are female, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal, Sommerfeld's appointment can also be seen as a win for women in business. She said her gender has not come up as an issue.
“In this space, if you have credibility and intellectual capacity and motivation I really don’t think it’s that much of an inhibitor,” she said.