Direct Investments

UK start-up develops world's only pure Zika extract in fight against pandemic

Originally a University of Birmingham spin-out, The Native Antigen Company (NAC), an Oxfordshire-based specialist in the research, development and manufacturing of high purity viral and bacterial products for research purposes, has developed the world’s only commercial available pure extract of the Zika virus.

This will be of vital importance to the research industry in the fight against Zika, which was recently declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and NAC is already attracting attention from researchers around the world as they race to develop specific tests and vaccines to identify and cure the viral strain.

Known as the Zika NS1 protein, NAC’s product is a natural (or native) match for the key parts (or antigens) of the Zika virus, which can be safely used to test biological reactions in a wide variety of circumstances such as disease diagnosis and vaccine development. There is as yet no vaccine for Zika and, due to its structural similarity to Dengue and Chikungunya, it is often very difficult to diagnose.

Steven Powell, CEO at The Native Antigen Company, said:

“The Zika virus has been front-page news for the past few weeks due to the threat it poses to unborn babies around the globe, and the WHO’s recent categorisation of this as a ‘global emergency’ underlines the need for the scientific community to take action.

“Our Zika virus NS1 protein will be a vital tool in the fight against Zika, allowing laboratories around the globe to research effective methods of diagnosing and vaccinating the disease. We will continue to develop further active reagents, which will be key to international efforts to monitor and control the spread of current and future deadly viruses.”

NAC has also developed native antigens associated with Dengue, West Nile and Yellow Fevers. Pure native antigens, which are capable of inducing an immune response within the host organism, also enable researchers to perform tests on certain viral strains easily, yielding more accurate results than other man made (or recombinant) methods.

NAC is an emerging star from leading technology investor Mercia Technologies’ wholly-owned subsidiary of third-party funds, Mercia Fund Management (MFM) and the business is growing rapidly. Since it received its first investment five years ago from MFM, NAC has built a strong team of scientific talent to provide a vital line of antigens retailed globally to what is a largely underserved industry.

Peter Dines, Investment Director and Head of Life Sciences at Mercia Fund Management, said:

“Since Mercia Fund Management’s first investment five years ago and latterly becoming a direct investment of Mercia Technologies PLC, NAC has grown to not only offer a unique service to the research industry, but also facilitates access to its products through a sleek and secure online catalogue. We are pleased to continue to support them as they accelerate their work in the fight against Zika and other deadly viruses and bacteria.”

Laboratories across the world are ordering NAC’s comprehensive product line of bacterial, protozoal and viral antigens directly from their secure online e-shop, which was launched in July last year.