Novartis announced today an agreement with Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc. (SGVI) to apply “synthetic genomics” technologies to accelerate the production of the influenza seed strains required for vaccine manufacturing. The seed strain is the starter culture of a virus, and is the base from which larger quantities of the vaccine virus can be grown. The three-year agreement, supported by an award from the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), could ultimately lead to a more effective response to seasonal and pandemic flu outbreaks.
Currently Novartis and other vaccines companies rely on the WHO to identify and distribute live reference viruses to create seasonal or pandemic vaccines. Under this collaboration, Novartis and SGVI will work to develop a “bank” of synthetically constructed seed viruses ready to go into production as soon as WHO identifies the flu strains. The technology could reduce the vaccine production time by up to two months, which is particularly critical in the event of a pandemic.
“Our research strategy has always been to apply new vaccine technologies and innovation to deliver better prevention methods and meet patient needs,” said Rino Rappuoli, Head of Research for Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics. “We are pleased to work in collaboration with Craig Venter and SGVI to study and develop this promising and important new synthetic genomics technology. It has the potential to safely reduce the time needed to develop new vaccines and improve pre-pandemic preparedness.”
“Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc is pleased to be working with Novartis on this key application of synthetic genomic technology,” said Dr. Venter, founder and CEO of SGVI. “The Venter Institute has a long and successful history of working with Novartis and we are excited to extend this relationship with SGVI to use the latest advances in our science to improve and enhance vaccine development and production.”
Novartis plans to test vaccines that could potentially result from this new approach in large-scale clinical trials. Review and approval from country health authorities will be obtained before any commercial use.
SVGI is a new company formed by Synthetic Genomics Inc and the not-for-profit research institute, the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). JCVI is currently working to sequence genes representing the diversity of several viruses, including influenza virus, and Novartis has been working with JCVI for more than a decade to apply their findings in the genomics field to develop novel vaccines that prevent disease. The last collaboration introduced the use of genomics in vaccines research, a technology today known as “reverse vaccinology”.