DARPA efforts tweak tobacco-based vax making

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding four efforts to develop vaccine manufacturing processes based on fast-growing tobacco plants. Under its Blue Angel initiative, begun in May 2009, the agency assigned four companies to the task.

The companies are Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology in Delaware; Kentucky Bioprocessing in Owensboro; a consortium called Project GreenVax, whose partners are the Texas A&M University system and a Texas company called G-Con; and Medicago in North Carolina.

Each is developing its own variation on the tobacco theme. Such details as how plants are infected, the kinds of vectors used, and how the protein is purified are where the approaches differ. And the projects are at different stages. Fraunhofer, for example, already has a product in Phase I testing.

Another Blue Angel project is Modular Immune In Vitro Constructs, which aims to quickly test new vaccines for safety and effectiveness. VaxDesign Corp. has developed a technology for mixing human immune cells and biological molecules for use in predicting dosing, dose timing and cross-protection against other viral strains. The goal is to minimize or eliminate lengthy and costly clinical testing.

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