Codagenix commences Zika vaccine testing

Zika, and ye shall find: Broad Hollow Bioscience Park biotech Codagenix is testing a potential Zika virus vaccine in a living host.

Farmingdale biotech Codagenix Inc. has commenced the first tests of its potential Zika virus vaccines in a living host.

In a noteworthy display of speed sure to impress the medical community and potential investors alike, the 2012 startup began in vivo testing of its live-attenuated Zika virus vaccine candidates earlier this month – just 27 days after it plugged Zika into its proprietary, synthetic biology-based vaccine-design platform.

The safety and efficacy study is being conducted under the auspices of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and is happening at Utah State University’s Institute for Antiviral Research, an NIAID-funded contractor.

It involves an AG129 mouse – a model that’s been proven susceptible to Zika virus infection, making it a rarity among laboratory mouse models.

Coleman (left) and Mueller: The need for speed.

Coleman (left) and Mueller: The need for speed.

While Codagenix principals have high hopes about the effectiveness of their potential Zika vaccine, just the fact that testing has already commenced – less than a month after the company first put Zika through its vaccine-creation platform – demonstrates Codagenix’s valuable ability to rapidly develop vaccine candidates for emerging threats.

That’s unheard of when it comes to more traditional “vaccine platforms” – such as virus-like particles, which resemble viruses but lack viral genetic materials, rendering them non-infectious – according to Codagenix Chief Science Officer Steffen Mueller, a Stony Brook University assistant research professor who cofounded the company four years ago with Farmingdale State College biology professor J. Robert Coleman.

“Codagenix has a next-gen approach that instead targets the virus itself,” Mueller noted.

Codagenix’s platform digitally recreates viruses and redesigns their genomes, then synthesizes the “re-coded” viruses from scratch to test potential vaccines. The platform can be “universally applied,” according to the company, which has already received federal grants to turn its proprietary power on such viral villains as the Foot and Mouth Disease Virus and swine flu.

The company – which relocated this year from SBU’s Long Island High Technology Incubator to FSC’s Broad Hollow Bioscience Park and has also received both private VC funding and financial support from the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council – boasts a pipeline filled with potential vaccines, including treatments for influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, Dengue, E. Coli and other pathogens.

The “disruptive” genome-recoding technology is “shaking up the vaccine industry’s status quo,” noted Coleman, particularly by flexing its quick-development muscle.

“As evidenced by the Zika epidemic and other diseases, there is a growing need for vaccines that both work and can be made rapidly,” the Codagenix CEO told Innovate LI. “[Our platform] now provides a rational means for designing vaccines against multiple targets and can be used to rapidly generate vaccines to combat emerging epidemics.”

While producing the first Zika virus vaccine candidates took less than a month, the process figures to slow down from here. The first in vivo trials should run through the fourth quarter of 2016; assuming positive results, Coleman estimated that human trials could begin by mid-2017, with three phases of human testing likely to run through the end of next year at least.

That’s still a blistering pace for a large-scale vaccination effort – though for now, all eyes are on those tiny, four-legged patients in researcher Justin Julander’s Utah State laboratory.

“We are looking forward to seeing how the Codagenix Zika virus vaccine candidates perform in our AG129 model to facilitate discovery of a needed vaccine,” Julander said Tuesday.