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Plan for $38 million LI vaccine research center scrapped

Codagenix chief operating officer J. Robert Coleman, doing

Codagenix chief operating officer J. Robert Coleman, doing some laboratory work at Codagenix in Farmingdale Nov. 2, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A $38 million project to develop vaccines and train students for careers in biotechnology has fallen through because of a lack of money.

The Next Generation Vaccine Development Project at Farmingdale State College received state funding — just not enough to bring it to fruition, officials said.

Last year, the project was awarded only 24 percent, or $2.25 million, of the $9.4 million that had been requested from Empire State Development, the state’s primary business-aid agency.

Farmingdale State and its partners in the project — Nassau Community College and vaccine startup Codagenix Inc. — cannot close the funding gap, officials said. They haven’t accepted the state grant as a result, according to a state report.

Like Farmingdale State, NCC “declined to participate . . . after it was determined that the matching costs of the program would far exceed the award grant, imposing a prohibitive burden upon the college,” said NCC president W. Hubert Keen, who led Farmingdale State when the grant was announced in December 2015.

Because the state grant was smaller than expected, the vaccines project would have required $19.4 million from Farmingdale State, $12 million from the federal National Institutes of Health and $4.3 million from Codagenix, according to a report from the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council.

The council and other local leaders had enthusiastically backed the project, saying last year that it would strengthen Codagenix, a startup born at Stony Brook University, and prepare students for jobs in biotechnology — an industry that the leaders want to expand on Long Island.

The project was expected to create 34 jobs over five years and add a building to the Farmingdale State campus.

“The idea was to generate more scientists and [lab] technicians,” said J. Robert Coleman, chief operating officer and co-founder of Codagenix. “If the project is resurrected, we would be interested in participating. . . . We just don’t have the required matching money at this time.”

Codagenix moved to Farmingdale State in February after being accepted into Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Start-Up NY tax-free zones program, where participants and their employees don’t pay some taxes for up to 10 years. The Farmingdale State zone is located in the college’s Broad Hollow Bioscience Park.

Coleman said Codagenix has, in less than a year in Start-Up NY, surpassed its five-year pledge to invest $135,000. The company also is close to meeting its promise to create five jobs within five years.

Codagenix has developed vaccines for influenza, Zika, dengue and other diseases, said Coleman, who also teaches biology at Farmingdale State. The vaccines provoke a stronger immune system response because they contain live viruses rather than the dead ones used in many other vaccines. The more robust response means better protection, Coleman said.

Codagenix president and co-founder Steffen Mueller said the company uses a software algorithm to weaken the virus’ impact by changing its DNA. The weakened virus is then used to make a vaccine.

Last week, Codagenix and Stony Brook University announced a 20-year licensing agreement, giving the company exclusive rights to use the algorithm in return for payments to the university. Codagenix’s vaccines are in various stages of testing.

Farmingdale State spokes man Patrick Calabria said the college hasn’t given up on the project. Vaccine development “is an exciting concept,” he said, “and we are exploring avenues of potential funding.”

Vaccine project at a glance

What it would do: Develop vaccines; train students to work in biotechnology

Price tag: $38 million

Funding awarded: $2.25 million state grant

Partners: Farmingdale State College, Nassau Community College, vaccine startup Codagenix Inc.

Jobs to be created: 34

Status: Scrapped because of lack of money

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