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Ames startup Genvax Technologies receives grant to develop African Swine Fever vaccine

Genvax Technologies, a startup animal vaccine company located in Ames, has been awarded a $145,000 grant to develop a vaccine for African Swine Fever (ASF). The grant money comes from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR). Matching funds were provided by Genvax Technologies for a total $290,000 investment in ASF vaccine research.

African Swine Fever is a highly contagious virus that causes 100 percent mortality in swine and for which there is no commercially available vaccine. ASF is present in many countries around the world, but to date it has never been detected in the US. ASF is not a threat to human health as it cannot be transmitted from pigs to humans; however, the high mortality rates it causes in pigs would significantly disrupt US pork producers and the economy.

Genvax Technologies is developing a non-living vaccine composed of self-amplifying messenger RNA, or saRNA. saRNA vaccines trigger the immune system to make antibodies that can successfully attack and destroy an invading virus. Researchers will test the vaccine at USDA-ARS’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center to determine if the vaccine will protect swine when exposed to a virulent, or severe, strain of the virus. If successful, Gevnax Technologies will seek approval from USDA-Center for Veterinary Biologics to deploy the vaccine in the US should an outbreak occur.

“The threat posed by African Swine Fever is extraordinary to both producers and consumers,” said Joel Harris, CEO and co-founder of Genvax Technologies in a release. “The creation, testing and regulatory approval of the vaccine will be a real joint effort by the USDA’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the Center for Veterinary Biologics and Genvax. The goal is to get a vaccine in the field that matches 100 percent to the specific ASF strain if an outbreak were to occur. This vaccine will also be compatible with diagnostic tests that can differentiate infected from vaccinated animals. This makes our vaccine an important tool for eradication efforts and may alleviate any concerns with trading partners abroad.”

FFAR awarded this grant through the Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, which deploys urgent funding to support research and outreach in response to emerging or unanticipated threats to the nation’s food supply or agricultural systems.

“We have already seen the effects of this highly contagious, deadly virus in countries across the world. If ASF reaches the US, we need to be prepared with an effective vaccine that can protect the US swine industry,” said FFAR Scientific Program Director Dr. Tim Kurt. “We have learned from the COVID pandemic that RNA vaccines can be produced rapidly and adapted for different variants; now it’s time to apply those learnings to improve animal health.”

Ames startup Genvax Technologies receives grant to develop African Swine Fever vaccine | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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