Alumnus working at the forefront of new immunity support against Covid-19

6 December 2021

Steve Hodgkinson
University of Waikato alumnus Steve Hodgkinson

In a world where Covid-19 is on everyone’s minds, University of Waikato alumnus and biotechnologist Dr Steve Hodgkinson and his team have been working on a product designed to support coronavirus immunity.

Steve is the CEO of RuaTech (Ruakura Technologies). The company has capability in immune milk technology which exploits the natural immunity of cow’s milk to produce antibodies against human pathogens for immune support and protection in consumers. The technology was developed for pathogens such as Rotavirus, E.coli or Candida against which it has been shown to be effective.

Steve says, “Earlier we worked with viruses and bacteria that are significant human health issues but the opportunity to commercialise it didn’t happen so the technology sat there waiting. The technology was like an idea before its time and wasn’t leveraged until the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When we first heard of Covid-19, we thought about how our technology might offer a further level of protection against this new virus and after proof of concept testing, we found that it did. It was fortunate that the groundwork was done earlier because we were able to quickly get up-to-speed and test antigen candidates to select the best ones to take on farm”.

In a collaborative effort with the University of Waikato, the team at RuaTech synthesised antigens against Covid-19 and tested immunogenicity in ruminants, testing the ability of resulting antibodies to inhibit a key step in the virus’s pathway to infection in humans and effectiveness with which the antibodies transferred into milk.

“We applied some pretty heavy-duty science to this development programme and happily we found that our antigens are highly effective at inducing antibodies, that these are protective and transferred into milk.”

Steve says that the product isn’t a substitute for vaccines but rather it will provide complementary support in situations where additional protection is required. For example, in congested environments, on international flights or for those self-isolating at home where other family members may be exposed.

The product will be consumed orally or potentially as a nasal spray and will coat the lining of the mouth and throat to prevent the binding of the virus to the cells.

The team is currently working through the steps required to go to market and to reach investors. “The product is novel and inventive. As a country, we are looking for alternative ideas for protection against Covid-19. RuaTech has the technology.”

A provisional patent for the research has been lodged naming the collaborators and inventors as RuaTech and University of Waikato. “We have the patent but to move to the next stage we need capital and partners. When we have those, we will go on farm and produce a new milk product at pilot scale. That is the next significant step.”

Steve has a PhD in growth and development from the University of Auckland and a Masters of Business Administration with Distinction from the University of Waikato with a major study of, organising for innovation.

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