Insect cells offer faster flu vaccines

Pharmaceutical Technology Europe

Influenza vaccines can be produced faster using a new insect cell-based technology compared with traditional egg-based processes, according to scientists in Vienna (Austria).

Influenza vaccines can be produced faster using a new insect cell-based technology compared with traditional egg-based processes, according to scientists in Vienna (Austria). The new technique involves using insect cells to create recombinant influenza virus-like particles (VLPs) that resemble virus particles, but lack the viral nucleic acid, which means they are not infectious.

"Recent outbreaks of influenza highlight the importance of a rapid and sufficient vaccine supply for pandemic and inter-pandemic strains," Florian Krammer, co-author of the study, from the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Science in Vienna explained in a press statement.

Traditional influenza vaccines are produced in embryonated chicken eggs and although they can be manufactured in sufficient quantities for seasonal influenza strains, the method may be insufficient in a pandemic situation because of limited egg supply.

Using the new insect cell-based method, the Austrian team took only 10 weeks to produce swine-origin pandemic H1N1 influenza VLPs for immunological studies in mice. Conventional production methods, however, would take months. Using insect cells also overcomes some of the problems associated with egg-based methods, such as allergic reactions to egg proteins and biosafety issues.

"Our work demonstrates that recombinant influenza VLPs are a very fast, safe and efficient alternative to conventional influenza vaccines and represents a significant new approach for newly emerging influenza strains such as H1N or H5N1," said Krammer,

The work has been published in the Biotechnology Journal. In the press statement, journal Editor Professor Aois Jungbauer added: "VLPs will be one solution to tackle the biological variability of influenza pandemics. Mutated strains can be quickly engineered, so in this respect the work is an extremely valuable contribution to modern vaccine production."

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