Insects could help meet future H1N1 vax demand

Austrian scientists are touting research involving insect cell-based technology to create recombinant influenza virus-like particles (VLPs)--a discovery that could lead to faster production times for H1N1 vaccines. It took the team just 10 weeks to produce swine-origin pandemic H1N1 influenza VLPs for immunological study in mice, according to research published recently in the Biotechnology Journal. VLPs lack the viral nucleic acid, so they are not infectious.

"Virus-like particles will be one solution to tackle the biological variability of influenza pandemics," notes Biotechnology Journal editor Professor Alois Jungbauer in a statement. "Mutated strains can be quickly engineered. So in this respect the teams' work is an extremely valuable contribution to modern vaccine production."

Using insect cells also bypasses the disadvantages of egg-based production, such as limited production capacity, allergic reactions to egg proteins and biosafety issues. 

The U.S. government and big drugmakers have been racing to discover new production techniques for vaccine production. Novartis recently opened a plant--built with the help of a government grant--in North Carolina that will employ new technology to grow flu viruses in vats of cells derived from dog kidneys. And Protein Sciences has been trying to gain FDA approval for innovative flu vaccine FluBlok, which can be produced in less than two months by inserting flu genes into an insect virus and growing it in caterpillar ovary cells. But an FDA advisory committee voted 6-5 in November that the company hadn't adequately demonstrated the safety of the vaccine.

- check out the press release
- click here for the study abstract published in the Biotechnology Journal