Plants speed vaccine production

April 30, 2010
Stephanie Sutton
Pharmaceutical Technology Europe

A new automated factory in Boston (MA, USA) has been developed that uses non-genetically modified green plants to quickly produce large quantities of vaccines and therapeutics.

A new automated factory in Boston (MA, USA) has been developed that uses non-genetically modified green plants to quickly produce large quantities of vaccines and therapeutics. The factory uses plant viral vector technology, developed by the Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biotechnology (CMB) in Delaware for the biopharmaceutical company iBio, which when introduced into the plant, directs it to make a target protein. When this has accumulated in the plant's tissue, the biomass is harvested.

In a press statement, Vidadi Yusibov, Executive Director of CMB, said: "Traditional methods of vaccine production can take many months. Our plant-based technology provides the means for rapid, large-scale production of vaccine material in a cost-effective manner."

According to a press statement, the vaccines can be developed within weeks of an outbreak as the engineers have automated many aspects of traditional horticulture, including growing, watering and harvesting the plants using robotically engineered machines; in essence, turning a biological process into an industrial process. The factory has the capacity to grow tens of thousands of plants, and has been designed to be time-, cost- and space-efficient.

"In order to quickly produce large quantities of vaccine material or other protein-based medicines, such as antibodies, in compliance with cGMP, it was necessary to develop a consistent, repeatable process," Andre Sharon, a professor of mechanical engineering at Boston University and Director of the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation (CMI) in Boston, explained in the press statement. She also added that the vaccine production process can be safely and easily scaled up from a few milligrams to many kilograms. "The process is faster, cheaper, safer and does not require the sophisticated culturing or fermentation necessary in the current vaccine production process."