Direct Investments

Zika protein developed by Mercia ‘Emerging Star’ used to generate unique tools for virus detection

The Native Antigen Company, a former University of Birmingham spinout specialising in the research, development and manufacture of high purity viral and bacterial products, has collaborated with Avacta Group plc to create unique tools to develop diagnostic tests for the Zika virus.

Avacta Group plc, the provider of Affimer® affinity reagents for research and diagnostics, has used The Native Antigen Company’s industry-leading Zika NS1 protein, a recombinant protein derived from the virus which has been created for research purposes, to develop three distinct Affimer reagents. These reagents are capable of behaving like antibodies to bind to Zika NS1 and form the basis of new immunoassays.

Zika is a member of the flavivirus family carried by mosquitoes, which was recently linked to microcephaly in new-born children. It is currently extremely difficult to diagnose due to its structural similarities to other flaviviruses, such as Dengue, Yellow Fever and Japanese encephalitis.

The Affimer reagents generated by Avacta are the first published and validated reagents to bind specifically to the Zika virus NS1 protein. The Native Antigen Company’s NS1 protein was identified by Avacta as the best, most structurally accurate Zika antigen available, largely due to the fact that it was developed using mammalian cells.

Affimer binders are a novel engineered alternative to antibodies which can be produced quickly. They will be a vital tool in supporting rapid response efforts to what is now considered a global health emergency, and will help companies to develop point-of-care diagnostics and health screening tools.

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

“We have seen a huge level of interest in all of our flavivirus NS1 reagents from a wide range of diagnostic companies and reagent developers looking to develop high-quality, highly specific assays. Our recombinant proteins expressed in mammalian systems represent the most authentic antigens available for such development, and we are very pleased to see them playing a key role in the fight against the Zika virus outbreak.”

Dr Alastair Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Avacta Group plc, said:

“The identification of these three Affimer binders using The Native Antigen Company’s Zika NS1 protein means that new diagnostic tests could be developed that have the potential to diagnose a Zika infection from its early stages, and would be suitable for low cost, rapid, point-of-care diagnostics that could be deployed widely in the field.”

Peter Dines, Investment Director and Head of Life Sciences & Bio-sciences at Mercia, said:

“This is further validation of The Native Antigen Company’s work which is, in many cases, unique to the industry. The company is a great example of an ‘Emerging Star’ that Mercia has supported, first via its third party funds, and then via its own balance sheet. We look forward to supporting The Native Antigen Company further as it continues to build on its partnerships with businesses such as Avacta.”