Fungi, caterpillars, plants, bacteria: New frontiers in vaccine production

CHANTILLY, VA - A popular topic at the World Vaccines Congress was cell-based alternatives to egg-based technologies, which was called the next frontier by Dr. Richard Schwartz of NIAID.

In recent years, a number of research projects have revolved around producing vaccines in animals and plants. Arizona State researchers produced a West Nile vaccine in plants that proved promising. And tobacco has emerged as one of the most intriguing vehicles for new vaccine production.

Debbie Higgins of California-based Neugenesis detailed the NeuBIOS platform for the production of protein biologics. It combines specially developed strains of the fungus Neurospora crassa with paired expression plasmids and serves as the starting point for specific product production. According to Higgins, the system offers many advantages over the egg-based alternative, including speed; development times for new products are as short as 12 weeks. In addition, is scalable and flexible and requires less capital than the egg-based method, she added.

Daniel Adams, executive chairman of Protein Sciences, went next. Protein Sciences' products are based on recombinant proteins that are manufactured using its patented protein expression technology that uses insect cell technology--caterpillar ovary cells, in particular. He praised the use of these cells, as they are grown in a serum-free environment and are not known to cause any adverse events in humans (caterpillars are non-biting insects, he pointed out). Furthermore, development times are also quite fast; for example, its flu vaccine candidate FluBlok, which failed to win the backing of an FDA advisory committee on safety last year, can be produced in a third of the time it takes larger drugmakers, including Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, to make their chicken egg-based shots.

Fraunhofer USA exec Vidadi Yusibov discussed his company's model, which uses plants, telling the audience that two plants can produce enough seed for 1.5 metric tons of biomass. And Bacilligen CEO Steve Bende discussed how his company develops vaccines for infectious diseases for delivery via BVS, a bacteriophage‐based vector system. The company is currently funded through two NIH grants to develop BVS-based vaccines for HIV and flu. - Liz Jones