By Michael Fitzhugh
Novartis (NYSE:NVS) is hoping to shave two months off the usual time required to produce its annual flu vaccine by embracing a bank of synthetic influenza viruses created in a new partnership with Craig Venter’s new company, Synthetic Genomics Vaccines.
With seed viruses at the ready, Novartis could be ready to jump into vaccine production as soon as the World Health Organization identifies each year’s dominant flu strain instead of having to wait for distribution of the live reference viruses, as it does now.
Such a head-start could prove to be not only a life-saver for millions of people touched by pandemic flu, but also a competitive advantage for Novartis in what the market research company Kalorama estimates is a $22.1 billion global vaccine market.
“Our research strategy has always been to apply new vaccine technologies and innovation to deliver better prevention methods and meet patient needs,” says Rino Rappuoli, head of research for Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics.
Synthetic Genomics Vaccines, a new company formed by Synthetic Genomics and the not-for-profit J. Craig Venter Institute, plans to sequence genes of several viruses, including influenza, it says.
The three-year agreement between Novartis and Synthetic Genomics Vaccines is backed by an award from the United States Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the overseer of advanced research and development portfolio intended to support the development of stockpiles, innovations, and manufacturing infrastructures necessary to counter the country’s most menacing public health threats.
Venter and his colleagues created the first self-replicating synthetic bacteria cell in May. That feat proved that it is possible for genomes to be digitally designed, chemically made, and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new self-replicating life-form.