Cutting-Edge Technology Will Help Fight Viral Infections in Humans and Animals

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Underscoring Stony Brook’s commitment to cutting-edge translational research, the University has announced an agreement with Codagenix, Inc. to commercialize new technology that will help fight viral infections in people and animals.

Codagenix team

The research team developing next generation viral vaccines, from left: Rob Coleman, Eckard Wimmer, Steffen Mueller, and Steven Skiena.

Through the Research Foundation for the State of New York, Stony Brook has entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with Codagenix to harness technology that relies on software to re-design the genomes of potentially harmful viruses to make them safe and effective vaccines. The technology stems from research in the laboratory of Eckard Wimmer, PhD, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology. The lead indication for vaccine development generated is a vaccine against Seasonal Influenza slated for Phase I human clinical trials in 2017.

Dr. Wimmer, along with Steffen Mueller, PhD, Codagenix President and Chief Science Officer, and J. Robert Coleman, PhD, Codagenix Chief Operating officer, worked as colleagues for years in Dr. Wimmer’s laboratory examining and experimenting with the genes of viruses. By collaborating with Stony Brook scientists Bruce Futcher, PhD, in the Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, and Steven Skiena, PhD, in the Department of Computer Science, they discovered a way using gene manipulation and computer algorithms to “re-code” the genes of viruses. This re-coding process makes viruses extremely weak and thus ideal candidates as ultra-low dose attenuated vaccines.

“The advantage to our strategy and technology behind it is that we can design virus vaccine candidates quickly,” said Dr. Wimmer. “These candidates yield weak but stable microbes and can be synthesized in just a few weeks for testing.”

Codagenix team

Stony Brook University and Codagenix researchers in the laboratory of Dr. Eckard Wimmer (center, in back). Research Scientist Charles Stauft holds a Zika virus assay from the laboratory. Next to Dr. Wimmer are Rob Coleman, left, and Steffen Mueller of Codagenix. Also pictured is Steven Skiena, a Stony Brook computer scientist.

The technology has been shown to be effective against numerous viruses including ZIka, Dengue, and RSV all of which are in preclinical testing. The development of this pipeline of vaccines can be seen in numerous scientific papers since 2008, including a paper in Science, PNAS, National Biotechnology and most recently in 2015 in MBIo.

The licensing agreement enables Codgenix to develop and potentially market next generation vaccines using software-based gene design and whole viral synthesis to create low-dose, attenuated virus vaccines. The company expects to use this design to first test its vaccine against influenza; however, there are plans for human testing of their Zika and other vaccine candidates. Codagenix is also in partnership with a large agricultural company to make vaccines using the technology for companion and agricultural animals.

“There is a growing need for vaccines that work and that can be made rapidly, as evident by the Zika epidemic and other diseases,” COO J. Robert Coleman said. “The SUNY-RF ‘disruptive’ genome recoding technology shakes up the way vaccines are currently made, and the approach provides a rational means to designing vaccines against multiple targets.”

To date Codagenix has received over $6 million in funding to develop the vaccines. Initial seed funding of approximately $2 million came from National Institute of Health and USDA grants. Private investment of $4M started with Accelerate Long Island, and the Long Island Emerging Technologies fund. In 2015, the company received an additional $4 million from the Roslyn, NY-based Topspin Fund, a venture capital firm.

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