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Napa company begins testing a potential COVID-19 vaccine
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Napa company begins testing a potential COVID-19 vaccine

From the Coronavirus roundup from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series
Daniel Henderson, Ph.D.

Daniel Henderson, Ph.D., of Napa and two other Napa partners are the founders of Verndari, Inc. a Napa-based biotechnology company. The three men are working on a potential vaccine for COVID-19 that could be administered through a patch. 

Could a vaccine for COVID-19 come from Napa?

Daniel Henderson, John H. Brown and Jan Van Prooyen, founders of Verndari, a Napa-based biotechnology company, hope so.

The three men have been working on a potential vaccine that could potentially save millions of lives around the world.

On Thursday the company announced that it will begin preclinical testing at UC Davis of a potential COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine, which will be administered using its patented microneedle array dermal patch.

“This is what I’ve trained to do,” said Daniel R. Henderson, Ph.D., CEO, and chief scientific officer of Verndari, Inc., during a phone interview. “The need is great.”

The medical scientist is optimistic about finding a vaccine, noting, “I’m working as hard now as I ever have in my life.”

However, “The scary thing is that we’re not in control,” said Henderson. “The virus is in control. The virus has no purpose in life other than to replicate.”

“We’re passing 60,000 deaths (in the U.S.) and we’re still in the second inning. This isn’t anywhere close to over.”

Verndari, Inc. was founded in 2015 after the three men met through connections at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Napa. Verndari is an Icelandic word that means guardian or protector, said Henderson.

The company has since developed the potential COVID-19 vaccine using single, purified protein antigens produced by genetic engineering, said a news release.

The vaccine candidate uses the COVID-19 “spike” protein that enables the virus to infect human cells.

Verndari, Inc. was founded “to enable a rapid response to new viral threats as well as to produce more effective vaccinations for existing viruses, such as seasonal flu, while sharply reducing costs and making vaccine administration much simpler,” said Henderson.

The testing will be conducted in laboratories at the University of California, Davis.

“Our new approach and previous vaccine work have enabled us to quickly develop a potential vaccine for COVID-19. UC Davis provides a world-class forum for testing,” said the news release.

Preclinical testing begins this week at UC Davis’ Mouse Biology Program.

Verndari, Inc. is also in discussions with the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis to conduct further testing in nonhuman primates.

If the preclinical testing meets safety and efficacy goals, Phase 1 human clinical trials would begin.

Verndari estimates that testing from inception through Phase 1 human clinical trials will take approximately six months. The company is in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration using its Investigational New Drug (IND) submission.

The company isn’t the only one working on a possible vaccine. There are as many as 70 other such companies racing towards that goal, he said.

“We are excited to work with Verndari, Inc. to move its vaccine candidate through preclinical, and potentially clinical, studies,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis.

“This collaboration illustrates one of many ways that UC Davis is leveraging our unique expertise and established platform built on previous research for HIV, Zika and human cytomegalovirus in order to advance knowledge and solutions specific to COVID-19,” he said.

“When we founded Verndari, Inc. we set about to transform the entire vaccination process, from development through vaccination,” said John H. Brown, president, and co-founder of Verndari, Inc.

“Our goal is to enable more rapid development of more effective vaccines for both existing and emerging diseases that can be delivered at lower cost to populations around the world.”

Verndari’s VaxiPatch is a complete single-dose vaccination kit that uses a dermal patch with a microneedle array to deliver vaccines to the arm.

The patch itself is a big deal because the technology eliminates the need for refrigeration, a major cost factor in vaccination, and facilitates high-volume, automated manufacturing of vaccines. The vaccine technology can be used for both existing vaccines and new vaccines developed to meet emerging threats.

The VaxiPatch kit reduces or eliminates the reliance on healthcare professionals to administer vaccines and the need for sterile use of a needle and syringe, said a news release. The vaccination is accomplished with a painless microneedle patch applied to the arm, which can potentially be self-administered.

The single-dose vaccination kit has the potential to be shipped around the world to enable simple shelter-in-place inoculation using a microneedle patch placed on the back of the arm.

What does Henderson want Napans to know about the company’s possible vaccine?

“I’d like them to know that one of their neighbors is trying to help. And that I’m optimistic that we will come up with a vaccine,” he said.

“You’ve got a bunch of guys in Napa that are trying to help and by the way we might really transform the way we do vaccines going forward,” with the VaxiPatch, “and that’s pretty cool.”

Editor’s note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/

You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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