Ph.D. student Vindhya Kunduru is working to bring a vaccine for foodborne illness to market.

Unexpected Entrepreneur

March 18, 2013

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When Vindhya Kunduru moved to Raleigh, she had no idea she was going to become an expert on Salmonella, bacterial infections and chickens. Now she’s hoping to build a career on them.

Kunduru came to NC State in 2009 as a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, drawn by the prospect of applying her electrical engineering background to complex biological and medical problems. But in 2011, she took an entrepreneurship course, where she learned about a new vaccine developed by NC State researchers Hosni Hassan and Matthew Koci that targeted Salmonella.

“I’d had a bad experience with foodborne illness while in grad school in Oregon,” Kunduru says, “so I was very interested in any efforts to tackle foodborne pathogens.”

As part of the entrepreneurship class, Kunduru assessed the business potential of the vaccine, and found it promising. The vaccine had already been patented, and Kunduru worked with a team of her classmates to develop a business plan for what would eventually become Enteric Vaccine Solutions (EVS).

EVS was launched in January 2012, with the initial goal of marketing the Salmonella vaccine to the poultry industry. In laboratory testing, supported in part by NC State’s Chancellor’s Innovation Fund, Hassan and Koci were able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the vaccine in mice and chickens. EVS is part of the 2013 class of the Fast 15, a group of startup companies launched on work done at NC State.

“We’re now seeking funding to perform large-scale clinical trials, so that we can get USDA approval for the poultry industry to use the vaccine,” Kunduru says. “Then we can partner with an established pharmaceutical firm to mass-produce the vaccine and bring it to market.

“Our goal is for EVS to focus on research and the development of vaccines for a variety of pathogens – including, ultimately, Salmonella and Shigella vaccines for humans and E. coli vaccines for swine and cattle. Once we’ve developed and tested those vaccines, we’ll work with industry partners to produce and disseminate them on a large scale.”

But even as Kunduru is envisioning the future of EVS, she is also working to complete her Ph.D. in 2013.

“It’s extremely difficult to balance my work as an entrepreneur with my work as a student, but it’s also exciting,” Kunduru says. “That’s what keeps me going.”