Headquarters: Grand Forks, N.D.; founders remain at LA BioMed in Torrance

Co-Founder: Dr. Michael Yeaman

Business: Vaccines.

At NovaDigm Therapeutic Inc., scientists believe they are on to something. They’re developing what they’re calling a new generation of vaccines.

The company spun off from LA BioMed in 2005 to work on vaccine research and developed an unusual approach.

Traditionally, vaccines introduce elements of an illness, such as the flu, into the body. The immune system then learns to recognize the illness and create antibodies to fight it. But NovaDigm’s vaccine employs a more complex model.

“One of the reasons our work is being seen as pioneering in next-generation vaccines is that it acts in a way that is unconventional,” said co-founder Dr. Michael Yeaman. “Instead of generating antibodies exclusively, it seems to program our adaptive immune system so it can orchestrate the best defense.”

The new vaccine might have at least two uses: It could prevent reoccurrence of yeast infections in women and also stop patients with weakened immune systems from picking up antibiotic-resistant infections during hospital stays.

While Yeaman, Dr. Jack Edwards and colleagues continue their research at LA BioMed laboratories in Torrance, NovaDigm’s corporate headquarters and clinical operations are at a University of North Dakota Laboratory biotech incubator in Grand Forks. Chief Executive Tim Cooke, a veteran of Merck & Co. Inc.’s vaccine division, telecommutes and travels from a one-man office near his Boston-area home.

“We are still a pretty virtual organization – our head of research and development lives in Philadelphia and our business development manager is in San Francisco,” said Cooke, who relies on teleconferencing and cross-country flights to stay in touch with his people. “Technology and outsourcing enables us to be cost-effective, stay connected and have the best people working for us.”

NovaDigm’s experimental vaccine is in midstage clinical trials, with results expected by the end of next year. The company plans to apply for regulatory approval for the yeast infection vaccine first because those clinical studies will be less complicated and costly.

NovaDigm has raised $28 million from venture capitalists since 2008, with the most recent round closing last month. It also has more than $17 million in government grants. The company’s venture backers include Domain Associates of San Diego and RusnanoMedInvest of Moscow.

If the vaccine goes to market, LA BioMed will earn licensing royalties. The institute also has a small equity stake that could pay off big if NovaDigm is later acquired by a larger drug company or goes public.

“They’re really the research engine of our company and provide us with a lot of expertise in other ways as well,” Cooke said of the scientists at LA BioMed. “They are very supportive and really easy to work with.”