Genvax Technologies, a startup dedicated to bringing advances in self-amplifying mRNA vaccine production to animal health, has secured $6.5 million in series seed funding. This funding moves the company toward USDA and international regulatory approval of its vaccines in anticipation of any foreign animal disease outbreak in order to increase health and profitability in livestock production.
The company's proprietary saRNA platform allows for rapid development of herd or flock-specific vaccines matched 100% to the variant strain circulating in an animal-production operation. By inserting a specific transgene or "gene of interest" matched to the variant strain into the platform, the saRNA can generate an antibody response without requiring the whole pathogen.
"The threat posed to producers and consumers by foreign animal diseases like African swine fever and constantly mutating variants of swine influenza is extraordinary," says Joel Harris, CEO and co-founder of Genvax Technologies. "The goal is to develop a vaccine that matches 100% to the specific strain when a disease outbreak occurs. For ASF, Genvax's vaccine could be an important tool for eradication efforts and may alleviate any concerns with trading partners abroad. In addition, the financial and public support of multiple stakeholders like United Animal Health and others in the food industry is a huge validation of this technology's promise."
In April 2022, Genvax announced it had received more than $145,000 in grant funding from the USDA-Agricultural Research Services Plum Island Animal Disease Center and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to develop a saRNA vaccine for the ASF virus. ASF can cause up to 100% mortality in pigs and could decimate the income of U.S. pork producers and force layoffs, significantly reducing rural employment. Economic models estimate the worst case scenario of an ASF outbreak in the United States would result in a $50 billion loss to the domestic pig industry.
United Animal Health led the financing with participation from Johnsonville Ventures, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Summit Agricultural Group and Ag Startup Engine. This investor coalition represents animal health, nutrition, feed, meat packers and consumer products in the fight against existing and emerging threats to the food supply chain.
"United Animal Health sees Genvax and self-amplifying mRNA vaccines as the cutting edge of technology to protect the industries we serve," says Scott Holmstrom, Ph.D., senior vice president, research and development, United Animal Health. "These technologies are critical to food security and protein availability. We are excited to be offering our innovation and research farms to work carefully with Genvax in developing these future products."
"We've been impressed with Joel Harris and the Genvax team, in addition to the novel technology they are developing," says Kevin Ladwig, managing director, Johnsonville Ventures. "As a stakeholder in the pork industry, we feel this is a necessary step in helping prepare for and protect against African swine fever and other emerging diseases."
"Iowa Corn recognizes the importance of protecting the livestock industry against emerging diseases such as African swine fever," says Pete Brecht, director, Iowa Corn Promotion Board. "Iowa is a leader in both corn and pork production, we know the value of investing in the protection of our animals and the livelihoods of our farmers across the state. Genvax has a novel approach and an experienced management team to address such an important issue for agriculture."
Genvax was founded in February 2021 by animal health serial entrepreneurs Joel Harris and Hank Harris, DVM Ph.D. In addition to the non-dilutive grant funding from USDA-ARS-PIADC and FFAR, the company raised approximately $1.9 million in a pre-seed round of funding.
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