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Novartis to Develop Flu Vaccines with Synthetic Genomics

DNA fragment (Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Novartis, a global pharmaceutical company based in Basel, Switzerland, says today it will join with Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc. (SGVI), in La Jolla, California to apply a combination of synthetic biology and genomics to accelerate production of influenza seed strains required for vaccine manufacturing. Seed strains are starter cultures of a virus, and the base from which larger quantities of the vaccine virus can be grown.

Novartis and SGVI plan to develop a set of synthetically constructed seed viruses ready for production as soon as the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the needed seasonal and pandemic flu strains. The technology, says Novartis, could reduce vaccine production times by up to two months, which is particularly critical in the event of a pandemic. Vaccine manufacturers normally need WHO’s identification and distribution of live reference viruses before any vaccine development can begin.

Synthetic genomics is a field in which computer systems design and construct genomes in the laboratory using chemical techniques. When the genome of a potential influenza vaccine seed virus is synthesized and placed in a suitable cell, the essential starting material for an influenza vaccine can be produced.

Novartis says it plans to test vaccines that could result from this new process in large-scale clinical trials, and seek approval from country health authorities before any commercial use.

SGVI is a new company formed by Synthetic Genomics Inc. and the not-for-profit research institute, the J. Craig Venter Institute.

The three-year agreement with SGVI is supported by a grant from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), to help find a more effective response to seasonal and pandemic flu outbreaks.

Related: HHS Review Highlights Role of Business in Medical Countermeasures

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