Novartis, Craig Venter to Create Synthetic Vaccines

Novartis AG agreed to use technology from Synthetic Genomics Vaccines Inc., a company run by genome pioneer Craig Venter, in an effort to cut the time needed to develop influenza shots.

Novartis and San Diego-based Synthetic Genomic Vaccines will work together to create so-called seed viruses, templates from which large amounts of vaccine are created, Novartis said in a statement today. Novartis hopes to reduce the time needed to start vaccine output by two months, which is critical in the case of a flu pandemic, the company said.

“There is always the risk a of pandemic,” Rino Rappuoli, who heads vaccine research at Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis, said in a telephone interview today. The company produced enough vaccine only after the peak of the flu pandemic was over last year, Rappuoli said.

The companies agreed to a three-year collaboration, according to the statement. The work is supported by the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the government agency that oversees vaccine and drug development for public-health emergencies.

Vaccine manufacturers rely on the World Health Organization to identify and distribute live reference viruses to create seasonal or pandemic shots. Novartis and Synthetic Genomics will work to develop a bank of synthetically constructed seed viruses ready to go into production as soon as WHO identifies a new flu strain, the company said.

“We will have all the pieces ready to go, and on the day we will just push the button,” Rappuoli said.

The bank could be ready as early as next year, Rappuoli said. While Novartis is concentrating on a pandemic flu shot, the collaboration may also benefit its seasonal flu program, according to Siena-based Rappuoli.

Human Genome

Venter is best known for his privately backed race in 2000 against the publicly funded Human Genome Project to decode the entire human genetic blueprint. The teams shared credit for the milestone. This year, researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, reported that they made a copy of a bacterium’s entire genome and then transplanted it into a related organism, where it functioned normally.

Synthetic Genomics Vaccines was created by the not-for- profit Venter institute and Synthetic Genomics Inc., a company Venter founded in 2005. Investors in Synthetic Genomics Inc. include BP Plc and the venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eva von Schaper in Munich at evonschaper@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.net.

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