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Codagenix snags grant to develop vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease

Codagenix's co-founder Robert Coleman, left, and chief scientific

Codagenix's co-founder Robert Coleman, left, and chief scientific officer Steffen Mueller at the company's lab at the Long Island High Technology Incubator in Stony Brook on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Codagenix Inc., a Stony Brook biotech company researching new vaccine-making methods, has been awarded nearly $100,000 to help develop a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease.

The $99,811 grant was awarded to the small startup through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research Program. The funding, announced by Rep. Steve Israel's office Monday, will provide the company with the resources needed to create a vaccine to treat the ailment that affects cloven-hoofed animals, including cows and pigs.

"We're excited to begin working in the agricultural space, especially against one of the most infectious diseases with a large potential economic impact," said Codagenix chief operating officer J. Robert Coleman.

Codagenix will use the "exact same approach" it has with human viruses to work on foot-and-mouth disease, Coleman said.

He likens his company's process to making an exact copy of a souped-up sports car, or in the case of vaccinations, a wild virus. Then, using specialized software algorithms, Codagenix is able to remove the most dangerous components -- or engine -- from the copycat, creating a new, safer vaccine foundation -- an attenuated virus.

It contrasts with current vaccine-making methods, which rely heavily on the gradual mutation of viruses through trial and error, not on the direct manipulation of viral DNA. Of the vaccines Codagenix is working on, its influenza vaccine is the furthest along, with early-phase clinical testing on humans expected to begin sometime in the next 12 months.

The new project is part of a collaborative effort with the Department of Homeland Security's Plum Island Animal Disease Center, where the USDA operates its Foreign Animal Disease Research Unit. To date, Codagenix has received $1.8 million in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health for its work on vaccines for human diseases, such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and the dengue virus.

While an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has not been seen in the United States since 1929, the estimated annual impact internationally for regions where the disease is endemic ranges from $6.5 billion to $21 billion in economic losses, according to a scientific journal article cited by Israel's office.

"I applaud the USDA for empowering small businesses like Codagenix to develop their innovative research into vaccines that will ensure a healthy agricultural economy," Israel (D-Huntington) said in a statement.

Currently based in Stony Brook's Long Island High Technology Incubator, Codagenix will be moving its five-employee operation to the Start-Up NY zone at Farmingdale State's Broad Hollow Bioscience Park later this year.

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