Medicago, BU design tobacco vax factories

Efforts to speed up vaccine manufacturing have shifted into overdrive now that flu season is here. Tobacco and virus-like particles are currently in the headlines for efforts geared at developing manufacturing facilities.

Medicago is building a large manufacturing facility in North Carolina to grow tobacco plants and produce about 40 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine per year, or 120 million doses of pandemic flu vaccine for the U.S. market, said CEO Andy Sheldon. The U.S. DoD is investing $21 million in the Canadian company. Last year's H1N1 outbreak gave it a chance to pilot the technology, which yielded a 19-day process time to first doses, reports CBC News, compared with the months required of egg-based vaccine production.

Separately, Medicago is extending its vax-manufacturing and virus-like particle work with Genopole. The two struck a partnership in mid-2009 to create a lab for research and are now working on a commercial-scale facility based on Medicago's Proficia plant-based manufacturing technology at a Genopole site in Evry, France.

At the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation at Boston University, researchers and engineers are combining skills to develop a high-production tobacco-based vaccine factory. The facility consists of robotically tended machines that plant seeds, nurture the seedlings and promote growth, insert genetic instructions, and harvest the plants. The factory brings automated manufacturing techniques to the process, despite its strong similarities with farming.  "That's how we can scale it up from a few milligrams in lab demonstrations to many kilograms in case of a pandemic," says Andre Sharon, director for the Fraunhofer Center at BU, in a university publication.

- here's the CBC News report
- see the Genopole article
- see the BU/Fraunhofer story