Codagenix gets $100K USDA grant for Foot and Mouth vaccine

Codagenix CEO J. Robert Coleman: The Stony Brook-based startup is targeting a broad array of viruses.

By GREGORY ZELLER // Codagenix, the Stony Brook biotech startup, has been awarded a $100,000 federal grant to develop a vaccine for the infectious Foot and Mouth Disease Virus.

Funding for the project, which will be jointly run by the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, comes through the USDA’s Small Business Innovation Research program, which encourages U.S. entrepreneurs to engage in research and development with commercialization potential.

While Foot and Mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals, the infectious and sometimes fatal virus that causes it can be transmitted from cattle, pigs, sheep and other livestock to humans. Codagenix is researching a vaccine applicable to livestock only.

Codagenix uses a proprietary software platform to digitally recreate viruses like the FMDV and redesign their genomes. The “re-coded” viruses are then synthesized from scratch and have proven to be highly effective vaccine candidates.

The USDA grant is funding what CEO J. Robert Coleman called a “shared responsibility” between the company and Plum Island.

“We’re doing the digital work,” Coleman noted, “and they’ll be doing the lab work.”

The USDA funding marks the latest in a series of economic awards snagged by the company, which incorporated in 2011.

In December, the Start-Up NY firm – a resident of Stony Brook University’s Long Island High Technology Incubator – announced a $100,000 joint investment by regional business booster Accelerate Long Island and the Long Island Emerging Technology Fund, a joint venture of East Setauket-based Jove Equity Partners and Roslyn’s Topspin Partners.

Codagenix also announced a $222,000 December grant from the National Institutes of Health, part of a total $1.8 million the NIH has earmarked for Codagenix’s research into vaccines for the Influenza virus, the bacterial pathogen E. Coli and the virus that causes Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne tropical disease that affects as many as 528 million people annually.

The USDA grant focuses exclusively on Foot and Mouth, which economically speaking is among Codagenix’s most critical projects.

Although it was eradicated in the United States in 1929, 10 outbreaks of Foot and Mouth disease were recorded around the world in 2012, causing $1.5 billion in economic losses for the U.S. milk and meat industries. Without a vaccine, a global FMDV epidemic could have a “dramatic impact” on the U.S. agricultural economy, according to a statement issued Monday by the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington).

“This federal funding is an important investment to the already robust medical research community on Long island,” Israel said in the release. “I applaud the USDA for empowering small businesses like Codagenix to develop their innovative research into vaccines that will ensure a healthy agricultural economy.”

The USDA award also bolsters Codagenix’s “first foray into the agricultural space,” Coleman told Innovate LI – potentially, a big bottom-line step for the four-year-old firm.

“Commercially, we’re excited by this space because it’s a lot quicker path to market, as opposed to producing vaccines on the human side,” the CEO said.

Coleman couldn’t say for sure how long it would take Codagenix and Plum Island to produce a Foot and Mouth vaccine, though he predicted a relatively accelerated development track.

“It all depends on how things go in the lab,” he said. “But it will be much less than the five-to-seven years a human vaccine would require.”