Gates vets at Adjuvant back Codagenix's software-driven approach to recoding RSV, flu, oncolytic viruses and more
Software is eating the way we make vaccines, and it has earned Farmingdale, NY-based biotech $20 million for a platform tech theoretically applicable to any virus — from influenza to oncolytic viruses targeted at cancer.
Adjuvant Capital, the group of Gates Foundation veterans out to test a VC model for global health, led the Series B for Codagenix. Existing backers Euclidean Capital and Topspin Partners also returned for more.
As scientists expand their toolkit for tinkering with viruses, it’s become possible for vaccine makers to also lend the expertise to the vast oncology market. Adjuvant is also an investor in Themis, a Merck-partnered Austrian biotech applying its measles virus vaccine vector technology in both chikungunya and cancer.
Codagenix’s approach centers around a computer-based algorithm that introduces hundreds of silent mutations into the viral genome in silico such that they would use codon pairs underrepresented in human cells. The winning genome can then be synthesized from scratch and transfected into human cells and tested. They call this a “de-optimizing” process distinct from the traditional way of attenuating live viruses.
“With RSV, the biggest challenge, in our view, to construct a live-attenuated vaccine has been the genetic stability, meaning previous candidates would revert to virulence during clinical testing as these first-generation vaccine candidates have only a handful of mutations,” CEO Robert Coleman wrote in an email to Endpoints News. “Our vaccine, on the other hand, has hundreds of silent mutations that make it practically impossible to revert.”
One other advantage of this is speed — crucial in the time-racing game of vaccine making. In an outbreak, once Codagenix secures the strain’s digital sequence, it can generate a full-length “de-optimized” genome within 3 to 5 days, and then synthesize it, test it in cell lines and then in non-human primates, and have a vaccine candidate ready for clinical manufacturing by day 48.
“(E)specially in light of the recent coronavirus outbreak, our platform has the potential for very rapid generation of live-attenuated vaccine candidates – given our ability to re-code their genomes digitally and in turn recover attenuated vaccine strains from this synthetic DNA,” Coleman said. “With that broad palette in mind, we hope that the platform will be of use in responding to public health emergencies caused by emergent viruses and as well as help to solve unmet needs like RSV and dengue.”
The biotech plans to tackle some challenging targets such as H1N1 universal influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Zika, dengue and H7N9 influenza. Outside of the lead program, which is in Phase I, the rest are still in preclinical stages.
All are mass indications that have been challenging to crack. NovaVax’s RSV vaccine, backed by the Gates Foundation, famously floundered in Phase III; troubles with Sanofi’s dengue vaccine caused a public health scandal for the French pharma giant. But smaller players such as Meissa have also emerged with brighter promises.
As for using oncolytic viruses for solid tumors, Codagenix believes the previous generation of developers have adopted an “unnecessarily complex strategy” — augmenting the virus by growth factors and immune stimulators. Their synthetic virus, based on a natural immunogen, doesn’t require a transgene.
“We like to say our approach is elegant in its simplicity,” Coleman said.
The Series B cash will allow it to push the RSV and TNBC candidates into Phase I, launch two new vaccine programs, as well as advancing the influenza vaccine.
Steffen Mueller, the CSO, co-founded Codagenix with Coleman in 2012 based on research on out Eckard Wimmer’s lab at Stony Brook University.