Venter Institute, Synthetic Genomics Form Vaccine Company, Partner With Novartis

10/7/10Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego’s Synthetic Genomics, co-founded by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, and the nonprofit J. Craig Venter Institute, are forming a new company called Synthetic Genomics Vaccines.

The startup plans to develop next-generation vaccines, using the latest advances in synthetic biology and genomic sequencing from the Maryland-based Venter institute, and intellectual property and “business acumen” from Synthetic Genomics, according to a statement today. The new vaccine company also has formed a three-year alliance with Novartis, the Swiss pharma giant, to collaborate in the development of influenza seed strains needed for vaccine manufacturing.

The collaboration with Novartis is supported by an award from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority that is intended to lay the groundwork for a more effective public health response to seasonal and pandemic flu outbreaks. The companies did not specify the amount of the award.

Under their collaboration, Novartis and Synthetic Genomics Vaccines plan to establish a “bank” of synthetically created seed viruses, which could be used to produce vaccines as soon as the World Health Organization identifies seasonal flu strains of concern. Currently, the WHO distributes live reference viruses after they have been identified to major vaccine manufacturers like Novartis. By creating the bank, Synthetic Genomics says the partnership could reduce vaccine production time by as much as two months, which would be critical during a pandemic.

The Venter Institute has been working with Novartis for more than a decade to apply its expertise in genomics to the development of new vaccines. Their last collaboration resulted in a technique now known as “reverse vaccinology,” a genomics-based way of finding new targets for vaccines that’s faster than traditional methods. Using advances in synthetic genomics, the companies say it is conceivable that more universal vaccines could be developed to target a broader range of infectious agents.

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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