22 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY May 9-15, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com a solution containing Vitamin E. Like cells, which have membranes, the D4 team created “the smallest artificial membrane you’ve ever seen. Smaller than cells,” Wright says. Hoadley says the spheres have a “cargo space” in the middle. Into that space, Wright adds, “we can put a lot of stuff inside.” Those structures are what is known as an adjuvant, or something added to a vaccine to increase its effectiveness. The adjuvant the team created was also part of the patent. In the lab is a piece of equipment that magnifies the structure 400 times onto a screen, enabling a viewer to see thousands of small spheres that look like mini bubbles, floating across a monitor. It’s not unlike watching a mesmerizing video of jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (but without the bright colors), or a holiday yule log on the TV. The video of the spheres is a favorite of Wright’s: “If I watch this I’ll keep watching it for hours. I think it could replace the fireplace for scientists,” he jokes. With these structures carrying a vaccine, Wright theorized they could skip injecting into muscle—the way many vaccines have to be administered due to their design—and instead inject subcutaneously, or under the skin. He used as his inspiration the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk, which can be administered either subcutaneously or into the muscle. The dose of the D4 vaccine is small, about onethird of a teaspoon. Their vaccine was used to subcutaneously immunize Syrian hamsters at the Maryland-based BIOQUAL Inc., an accredited company to perform animal research in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act. Test results showed the vaccine successfully generated antibody responses after a single dose, with those responses increasing after a second dose. Further testing showed the vaccine provided prolonged antibody responses to several Covid variants, and a reduction in disease severity. The results also suggested a potential for long-term protection. In addition, the refrigerated vaccine has been found to remain stable for up to two years. More importantly for the people receiving vaccines, it means needing only a very thin needle under the skin. “Therefore it doesn’t hurt,” Wright says. “Most people don’t like vaccines because it hurts, they’re afraid of needles.” Yet people are giving themselves subcutaneous injections at home, like insulin, Wright points out. He envisions a day vaccines could be shipped to people’s homes so they can vaccinate themselves. For those who fear needles, Wright and Hoadley have tested use of a device that “injects” vaccines into the skin via a forceful spray using CO2— think Star Trek’s hypospray come to life. The technology could be used to vaccinate thousands of people a day if needed. More research is required, Wright says. The animal study only included five hamsters, and no human trials have yet been conducted. And for the D4 technology to become widespread, “it will take a larger company to take my ideas and run with them,” he says. In all, it took Wright, his team, and partner companies four years to work on the invention, but a relatively quick seven months to receive the patent. “One of my patents took nine years,” Wright says. “So it is so unique what we did—we showed that you could make a small portion of protein and put it in a structure and immunize animals just twice, not four or five times.” Wright tried to retire after he left Novavax in 2006, but it didn’t stick, says Emily Wright. He opened up a treatment clinic in Carmel and was known to work seven days a week, before closing that clinic and co-founding D4 Labs with Assemi and others. He has scaled back a little. Now Wright says he has no plans to retire. Retirement, he believes, is deadly to doctors. Physician friends of his have retired and then died within a couple of years. “I’m just like Charlie [Higuera] down here at the [Grove] Market, he’s 90 and he’s right, work keeps you going,” Wright says of his downtown neighbor. Wright likes his work and there is so much more of it to do. He’s in the best health of his life, he says. Outside of work in the lab the only time he spends outdoors is playing pickleball a few days a week on the P.G. courts. (Wright, with a friend, is working on another invention to patent: a quieter pickleball racket with a more comfortable paddle. Most of his patented inventions deal with drug delivery systems, adjuvants for vaccines and structures, the very things that make up his latest patent. The pickleball racket is one of other side projects he enjoys, Emily Wright says.) Not long after announcing that they had been awarded a patent, Wright and Hoadley were already using the technology they developed to test it on flu vaccines. They took the vaccine and encapsulated it in the now-patented adjuvant to create a product that can also be injected under the skin. They’ve continued with DTap (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) and polio vaccines. They’re eagerly working on getting accepted to present a paper about the inventions within the patent at the fourth edition of the International Vaccines Congress, set to take place Oct. 24-26 in Baltimore. It’s Wright’s chance to introduce his small-town discovery on a global stage. “Wait a minute, I’m a vaccinologist.” Wright plays pickleball in Pacific Grove a few times a week. One of his side projects with a friend is designing a racket with the goal of reducing noise, as well as providing a more comfortable handle. They hope to patent the racket. Wright looks on as Hoadley performs an experiment, one of thousands that have been conducted in the lab over the last five years.