Leading Brisbane:
Vaxxas CEO David Hoey

25 OCTOBER 2023

Brisbane biotech company Vaxxas is pioneering a novel needle-free skin patch technology that could enhance the performance of vaccines and increase access to vaccination globally.

Following the opening its 5,500sqm state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Hamilton in June, Vaxxas CEO and Better Brisbane Alliance member David Hoey sat down with BEDA to talk innovation, collaboration and the future of Brisbane’s MedTech industry.

Vaxxas CEO David Hoey V2

Meet David Hoey, CEO of Vaxxas


01. Vaxxas recently opened a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Northshore Hamilton. Tell us a little about Vaxxas and what the new facility means for Brisbane and vaccines?

Our new 5,500sqm manufacturing facility will firmly position Brisbane, and Australia, at the forefront of vaccine technology innovation.

Since our inception in 2011, Vaxxas has invested almost $100 million into the Queensland economy. This new facility allows us to continue this investment by supporting the scale-up of our manufacturing capacity, creating hundreds of new local and skilled jobs, and enabling Vaxxas to progress through late-stage clinical trials that will bring our first commercial vaccine products to the market.

Brisbane has a rich history of pioneering ground-breaking medical innovations, and Vaxxas is based on technology that was originally developed at The University of Queensland. The device is a tiny, non-threatening patch to put vaccine in the skin, with the potential to improve the performance of vaccines and reduce the need for skilled administration or refrigeration.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be growing and developing products that have the potential to benefit billions of people around the globe and save lives.

We expect to manufacture and distribute the first commercially available needle-free vaccine patches from this Brisbane facility within three to five years.

02. Brisbane is a city renowned for pioneering lifesaving health innovation, including the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil. What makes Brisbane an ideal destination for MedTech and attracting talent?

If you’re an innovator with an idea in MedTech you couldn’t be in a better place than Brisbane.

Brisbane has a growing eco-system with an increasing number of very successful early-stage MedTech companies.

The city has three things that strongly position it as a city in which you can build a successful, globally innovative MedTech company – infrastructure, talent and opportunities for growth.

Institutions like the Translational Research Institute (TRI) connect scientists with clinicians and industry in a unique setting, providing access to research, clinical trial and manufacturing expertise, and world class facilities. They make companies, like Vaxxas, possible without the need to build your own very expensive capital infrastructure from the outset.

The city is attracting the best and brightest research talent from around the world and our local academic powerhouses create a pipeline of talent for our workforce. Brisbane has a tremendous lifestyle too, which is a big drawcard and contributed to us building our team here.

03. BEDA has announced its latest MedTech cohort. What business advice would you give to other local innovators looking to launch their idea to Brisbane and the world?

Brisbane is a hub of technology innovation, with great early-stage incubator programs. And Australia is a great place to test market response to new business concepts and hone your idea. You need to develop clear messaging about the problem you’re solving and compelling reasons that underpin market adoption and growth of your solution.

These learnings can be developed quickly and efficiently in local markets, but you also need to be prepared for a completely different level of engagement when you’re pitching your ideas and opportunities to global markets and investors. 

If you’re searching for capital, be prepared for investor groups that are highly specialised and knowledgeable in specialised vertical market segments. And remember investor groups can have lots of companies at various stages of commercialisation in their existing portfolios as well as other start-ups pitching to them in these segments.

What does this mean? It means you need to be prepared for really detailed questions, and you need to be tenacious and persistent because you might pitch your business to 20 or 30 investor groups before you find the right fit.

04. Brisbane is on a strong growth trajectory – what do you think is contributing to that growth?

Well, I guess the secret’s out – Brisbane’s a great place to live. Who doesn’t want to live in a place with great weather, fantastic outdoor amenities and just an hour’s drive from the coast, north and south. 

Vaxxas has an undeniably bold mission – to change the way the entire planet thinks about vaccination in a way that can positively impact the lives and livelihoods of billions of people.

That’s a powerful message and it drives recruitment into our strong, committed, and growing team. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to recruit fantastic scientists and engineers out of Queensland’s universities, but when we are recruiting internationally - or from, interstate - it’s often the Queensland lifestyle that can really be the clincher that makes them say “yes, I accept”!

Better Brisbane Alliance

0.5 What do you hope to achieve with the Better Brisbane Alliance?

It was a real honour for Vaxxas to be recognise and invited to the table as part of the Better Brisbane Alliance. We believe Brisbane has the right mix of infrastructure, talent and world-class facilities necessary to build a biotech company.

As a member of the Alliance, I am most looking forward to the opportunities for collaboration with some of Brisbane - and Queensland’s - biggest champions. I hope we can share business agendas, build mutual networks and create opportunities to help fast-track the city’s pursuit of investment, business growth, tourism and events over the coming decade.

I’m really excited about what the next decade and beyond holds for Brisbane, and honoured to be a part of this group helping to make things happen.

On a personal note

06. What’s the best business advice you were ever given?

Calvin Coolidge – who served as the 30th President of the United States in the 1920s - died almost 100 years ago, however his words about resilience apply exactly today, perhaps even more so, than they did then. Look it up – worth a read.

To paraphrase, he says that nothing in the world can take the place of persistence, and that persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. That’s something I’ve carried with me in business, and in life.

07. Best business book

I love to read books about the business we’re in because there are so many inspirational stories about terrific Australian discoveries and technologies that have gone on to make a significant impact on the world. It’s something we’re also trying to do, and there are several examples of others in our field relating to vaccines.

The Mold in Dr Florey’s Coat is a true story about an Australian at the centre of the discovery of penicillin, which as you know has saved countless - probably billions - of lives. As extraordinary as this scientific discovery was almost 100 years ago, the path to commercialisation reads like a current day lesson in what to do, and what not to do, with transformative innovation.

08. Favourite Brisbane restaurant?

My favourite Brisbane restaurant would have to be Patina at Alumni Court (Customs House). Our core technology was initially developed at The University of Queensland and the company was established in 2011 by UQ’s commercialisation group UniQuest, so a lot of early Vaxxas dinners were held at Patina as well as celebrations of success along the way with our partners. You can’t really beat the menu and location either!

09. Describe your ideal Sunday

Smiling when I wake up to noisy parakeets even though it’s still dark outside. Coffee. Mountain biking at Mt Cootha. More coffee. Reading a book about something - not work related. More coffee. Watching the changing clouds and sky at sunset; where else on the planet do you see colours like this! OK, no more coffee by this time. Time with friends and family; and hitting the sack smiling about the parakeets that will wake me up before sunrise on Monday!

Brisbane City