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New York | Billionaire hedge fund founder Jim Simons is backing a small biotech firm that is developing a potential coronavirus vaccine.

Simons, through his family office, started investing in the company, called Codagenix, at least four years ago and now owns a little more than a 25 per cent stake.


Jim Simons: “It still takes a while to get a vaccination program under way.”  Getty

“It still takes a while to get a vaccination program under way,” Simons, 81, said on Tuesday on the sidelines of the MoMath Masters Tournament in New York. The founder of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies has a $US21.8 billion ($33.1 billion) fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Other companies are also making strides. This week, Moderna said it had shipped its first coronavirus vaccine for testing in humans, helping send the biotech’s shares up 60 per cent since Monday.

Codagenix expects to have a vaccine ready for animal testing in four to six weeks, and one suitable for clinical testing in humans about six weeks later, co-founder Robert Coleman said on Wednesday in a phone interview.

Render harmless

The Farmingdale, New York-based company uses software to recode the genomes of viruses to develop live attenuated vaccines, Coleman said. Such vaccines, which alter the infectious agent so it becomes harmless, have been used to eradicate polio and smallpox, he said.

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“We provide all proteins to the vaccine recipient’s immune system so you get a more well-rounded immune response, especially if coronavirus strains start to mutate,” Coleman said. “If you have more proteins you’ll get better coverage.”

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Codagenix started looking into tackling the coronavirus in January. By February, it had received synthetic DNA fragments of the virus to study. Within two weeks it put together the framework for several potential vaccines, and is now testing to determine which is most viable.

This month, Codagenix partnered with the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer in terms of number of doses produced and sold globally. About 65 per cent of the world’s children receive at least one vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute.

With the partnership, Codagenix will be able to make and distribute hundreds of millions of doses, Coleman said.


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