The J. Craig Venter Institute, in collaboration with Venter’s Synthetic Genomics Vaccines and Novartis, is working to reverse engineer a vaccine against a new viral strain of bird flu that has killed nine and infected at least 28 people in China.
Though the virus has been transmitted from birds to humans, there is no documented case of human-to-human transmission of the virus at this time. In a media briefing April 5, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said because researchers have access to the genetic code of the new viral strain, it’s possible to reverse engineer the virus to develop a potential vaccine strain.
“Under this contract, the synthetic genes were created for BARDA and they are being shared. We are using them to try to develop a candidate vaccine strain as are companies,” says Mike Shaw, director of the CDC’s influenza laboratory. “There are many different approaches to this. Many different companies and organizations are trying to work as quickly as possible to get the strain that would be shared as widely as possible to make sure that the vaccine production could receive it as quickly as possible.”
J. Craig Venter, chairman of the eponymous institute and CEO of Synthetic Genomic Vaccines, said that his organizations are using virus gene sequences made publicly available through the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. With the pharma giant Novartis, the organizations are working to synthesize the genes and provide them to CDC.
“The early availability of these synthetic genes could more rapidly and effectively assist in a global response to an emerging flu strain,” says Venter. “SGVI/JCVI and Novartis are closely following the situation in China and are engaged in dialogue with the appropriate global organizations to aid the situation as it evolves.”
The CDC said it, as well as pharmaceutical companies, will use the synthetic genes in an effort to develop a vaccine against the virus.
In 2010, Synthetic Genomics Vaccines began an effort with Novartis, under a contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to apply synthetic biology to create seed strains of viruses that could be used to develop influenza vaccines. 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.
Already the Venter Institute, along with researchers at the National Center for Biotechnology Information and 44 academic institutions, recently announced that they had sequenced and published more than 10,000 influenza virus genomes as part of the Influenza Virus Genome Sequencing Project of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Venter Institute says that its scientists have sequenced approximately 75 percent of the influenza virus genomes available in GenBank, an open access database maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
April 10, 2013