Medicago USA has been granted $21 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and several other military organizations to demonstrate scalable manufacturing of its plant-expressed virus-like particle vaccines. The grant is made under a government Technology Investment Agreement.
The DARPA interest stems from an accelerated effort "to deliver effective production of pandemic influenza [vaccine] in the USA," according to an announcement. VLPs mimic viruses, so they are recognized by the body's immune system and set it into action. Lacking core genetic material of the virus, however, they are not infectious and are unable to replicate. Medicago's VLP vaccine manufacturing process involves plant manipulation for the production of protein (which corresponds to the egg-based protein production in traditional vaccine making), product recovery and purification.
Medicago will develop a 90,000-square-foot scaled-up cGMP facility in Research Triangle Park (RTP), NC. An automation effort will accompany the scale-up. Its capacity goal is 10 million doses per month of influenza vaccine, with potential for expansion.
Another VLP vaccine maker is Novavax, which is in a venture with Cadila Pharmaceuticals of India. The venture has yielded CPL Biologicals, which in June announced the validation stage of a facility outside Ahmadabad. That plant is said to have capacity for 60 million doses per year.
- here's the Medicago release