Mazen Animal Health plans to establish a research and development center in North Carolina

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Mazen Animal Health, an Iowa start-up developing corn-based oral vaccines for animals, has chosen North Carolina as the location for its research and development center. The company will lease office, laboratory and greenhouse space in either Durham or Research Triangle Park in early 2023, said Jennifer Filbey, Ph.D., Mazen’s chief executive officer and co-founder.

“I think[the Research Triangle area]is a great place to place our research and development,” said Filbey, who is familiar with the region having lived and worked there before. “I can only say good things about the atmosphere there, the support and the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Mazen recently hired a director and two scientists to work at the R&D site, and more are expected to join this year, Filbey said.

Tracy Raines, Ph.D., a local scientist and executive with start-up experience in agricultural biotechnology, has been appointed vice president of research and development. In addition to her PhD and postdoctoral work in plant molecular biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Raines led or supported R&D programs at three agricultural biotech companies in the Research Triangle region: Paradigm Genetics, Athenix and AgBiome.

When Mazen secured Raines for the job, “It was a no-brainer to set up[R&D operations]in North Carolina,” Filbey said.

Raines has already hired two scientists – a biochemist and a plant transformation scientist – who have just started work, bringing the company’s total number of employees to 10.

“We have already built a super team and will continue to expand it,” said Filbey. “As we grow, we will also look for space for our nursery or pilot fields. We leave a footprint in North Carolina.”

That footprint is funded by a Series A venture capital round that raised over $11 million for Mazen in 2022. The round was led by Fall Line Capital and joined by all previous seed stage investors including Next Level Ventures, Kent Corporation, Ag Startup Engine, Ag Ventures Alliance, ISAV and Summit Ag. Several new investors, AgFunder, 1330 Investments, Addison Laboratories, SLO Seeds Ventures and Cal Poly Ventures also participated in the funding.

“We are pleased that Mazen Animal Health will be expanding its R&D activities in the state,” said Paul Ulanch, Ph.D., MBA, executive director of the crop commercialization program at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “Both plant science and animal health are strengths in the state’s agricultural technology ecosystem, and Mazen is in both. The company’s science is to use corn as a feed delivery system for antigens. This, in turn, will improve livestock health, which is important to North Carolina’s agricultural economy.”

Ulanch noted that Filbey presented at the 4th Ag Biotech Entrepreneurial Showcase program organized by the Biotech Center in 2016 and that NCBiotech employees have since communicated with her about resources in North Carolina that could help Mazen.

Mazen’s oral vaccines are manufactured in corn plants using recombinant DNA technology based on years of research led by John Howard, Ph.D., Mazen’s co-founder and an expert in recombinant protein production in plants.

Genes are introduced into the cells of the corn plant that code for the production of antigens – the proteins that give vaccines their protective power against infectious diseases. The antigens are expressed in the germplasm of the corn kernels.

The vaccine-loaded corn is ground, dried and mixed with regular feed corn to the desired dose and then fed to animals. Oral administration of vaccines to livestock and pets offers several advantages over the standard practice of manually injecting vaccines with syringes.

There is no stress for the animal, no risk of broken needles in animals and no accidental sticks for technicians. Cold chain handling and storage of vaccines is eliminated and less labor is required, saving time and money.

As it travels through an animal’s digestive tract, the vaccine antigen is gradually released and stimulates the production of neutralizing antibodies — a protective response to infection — in both the mucosal and systemic immune systems, Filbey said. This dual mode of action can provide greater efficacy than injected vaccines that only stimulate the systemic immune system.

Corn is well suited for delivery of delayed-release vaccines because it contains carbohydrates and enzyme inhibitors that protect the vaccine antigens from being broken down too quickly in the digestive tract, Filbey said.

Mazen’s lead product candidate is a vaccine against Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, a coronavirus that infects the small intestine of pigs and causes severe diarrhea and dehydration. PEDV is highly contagious and can wipe out flocks of newborn piglets and slow weight gain in sows.

Mazen is conducting efficacy studies of the vaccine in preparation for regulatory approval and product launch. The company plans to grow the vaccine on “several hundred acres” of transgenic corn in California’s San Joaquin Valley this year, Filbey said.

The corn is shipped to an Illinois manufacturing facility that purchases Mazen, where it is processed, blended and packaged into corn feed for distribution to farms.

Other products in Mazen’s development pipeline include vaccines for porcine circovirus, coccidiosis and salmonella in poultry, rabies and valley fever in dogs, and an undisclosed product being developed in collaboration with Elanco Animal Health, the Indiana-based global livestock and companion animal health company. is developed.

This product development work is now done in North Carolina.

“We’re just super excited to build R&D in North Carolina,” Filbey said. “It’s a great environment to be in.”

Source: North Carolina Biotechnology Center