Dow, Fraunhofer Explore Rapid Plant-Based Vaccine Manufacturing

One of the problems with most vaccine manufacturing processes is that they are animal based, posing contamination issues. Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, Mich.) is working with Fraunhofer USA's Center for Molecular Biotechnology (Newark, Del.) on a new manufacturing route where vaccine protein production will take place on the leaves of plants grown in greenhouses The technique involves transient gene expression (TGE), in which transient gene vehicles are made in the laboratory that "reprogram" plants to make designated proteins, which can be purified and administered in various forms.

Development work will take place under a four-year, $5.7-million cooperative research agreement from the National Institutes of Health. One benefit of the technology is that it results in a subunit protein vaccine so it will not expose users to prions, unkilled viruses, sometimes found in live attenuated vaccines, or other human pathogens. "Everyone realizes that the traditional live attenuated vaccines were great for eradicating diseases but they had side-effects. We can't afford that anymore," says Vidavi Yusibov, scientific director at Fraunhofer.

The technique, which could be scaled up using standard bioreactors and manufacturing equipment, would allow candidate vaccine to be ready for testing in a matter of weeks to months, rather than years."We anticipate that our plant technology will cut production time, reduce cost and produce effective and safe vaccines that can be delivered by capsule or nasal spray," said Carolyn Fritz, Dow's global business director for industrial biotechnology.

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