Joseph Vinetz, MD, is professor of medicine (infectious diseases), anthropology, and epidemiology (microbial diseases). His goal is to translate cutting-edge science into infectious disease control and elimination. A key component of Vinetz’s research program is field work in Peru, both in the capital city of Lima and the Amazonian city of Iquitos, where he maintains state-of-the-art and field-based laboratories. He also has collaborations in Brazil and Sri Lanka.
Vinetz founded the company Luna Bioscience to develop vaccines for emerging global infectious diseases, with a focus on leptospirosis. Recently, he won a Yale Faculty Innovation Award, which recognizes the exceptional contributions of faculty investigators whose inventions were licensed to startup companies and funded during fiscal year 2023.
Below, Vinetz discusses his path toward developing a human leptospirosis vaccine, his company Luna Bioscience, and the holy grail of his work.
What is leptospirosis?
Leptospirosis is a neglected tropical disease, meaning it is mainly prevalent in tropical areas, among vulnerable, under-resourced populations. You may not have heard of it, but it is a globally devastating disease. It affects more than a million people a year—a lot more people than the helminthic diseases—and about 60,000 people die from it annually. The disease has a 5% to 20% fatality rate.
Tell us more about your process of developing this vaccine.
We plan to develop a human vaccine using an animal pathway, beginning with a comprehensive hamster study. Our first product to be commercialized will be a recombinant canine vaccine against leptospirosis. Dogs get infected by the same Leptospira and develop the same disease that humans do, so the data from the dog vaccine will be useful for getting an investigational new drug application from the FDA for a human vaccine. There’s also a veterinary livestock market, so we plan to develop similar vaccines for cattle, horses, swine, and sheep. This will lead to a human vaccine.
Where did the name of your company, Luna Bioscience, come from?
Luna Bioscience was named after Luna, our cat. We have two cats—one’s named Bob, and one’s named Luna. But you can’t really call your company Bob’s Biotech. It doesn’t sound right.
What is the best part of your work?
I get to identify a problem, figure out the scientific way to solve the problem, and then get the solution out in the world. To me, that’s the holy grail.
Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine Section of Infectious Diseases engages in comprehensive and innovative patient care, research, and educational activities for a broad range of infectious diseases. Learn more at Infectious Diseases.