Applied DNA to speed up coronavirus countermeasures

Linear time: The world won't see an effective vaccine against 2019-nCoV for months -- or maybe sooner, thanks to Applied DNA Sciences.

Look out, coronavirus – Applied DNA is coming for you.

Adding to its growing portfolio of cutting-edge Polymerase Chain Reaction-based projects, Stony Brook-based Applied DNA Sciences is expanding its Joint Development Agreement with Italian R&D company Takis Biotech, with the headline-making 2019-nCoV in their sights.

Already hot on the trail of new cancer vaccines, the partners will now work on a “linear DNA” vaccine against the dreaded Wuhan, China-based illness that’s sweeping the globe.

The mutated coronavirus – as of Wednesday, linked to almost 1,400 deaths and more than 60,000 confirmed cases, mostly in China – has been declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization and by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

James Hayward: Mutant hunter.

With laboratories around the world scrambling to formulate an effective vaccine, Applied DNA – a leading manufacturer of PCR-based DNA strands, ideal for product authenticity, biotherapeutic development and cancer diagnostics, among other uses – is wading in with its state-of-the-art “linear DNA” tech.

The science is as large as the molecules are small, comparing Applied DNA’s linear DNA strands – which maintain open configurations with two free ends – to common “circular DNA,” essentially a closed loop.

But the advantages of Applied DNA’s linear models – speedy production, no antibodies or bacterial contaminants, “powerful immunogenicity” proven in prior linear DNA vaccines and unrivaled in vitro testing capabilities – are easy enough to follow, according to James Hayward, president and CEO of Applied DNA Sciences and LineaRX, the DNA-sequencing specialist spun off by the Stony Brook biotech in 2018.

Hayward credited LineaRX with two distinct advantages, noting the startup is in a unique position to help Takis Biotech researchers explore 2019-nCoV treatments both now and later, when the coronavirus invariably mutates again.

“As is typical for RNA viruses, coronaviruses mutate at rapid rates that require constant surveillance,” Hayward said. “We believe that one of the many benefits of PCR-produced linear DNA is the rapidity at which a putative vaccine can be revised to accommodate mutational drift.”

While the development of an effective 2019-nCoV vaccine is still months off at best, Takis Biotech CEO Luigi Aurisicchio said his company is very impressed with LineaRX’s proprietary DNA-production platform – and predicted that science would speed up development of a solution to the growing health crisis.

And not a moment too soon, he added.

“Our collaboration … has already shown the ability to induce powerful immune responses in animal models using linear DNA,” Aurisicchio said in a statement. “To induce antibodies that can neutralize 2019-nCoV, it is essential to use reliable, effective technologies that can be quickly adapted in the face of shifting pathogens.

“This global emergency requires a swift response.”