Medicago to develop vax facility in NC

Canada's Medicago is developing a 90,000-square-foot facility in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina for the company's VLP plant-based vaccine technology to combat flu. Medicago received the funding from DARPA as part of the Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals program to revolutionize current egg-based models and yield vaccines within three months of "emerging and novel biological threats," as Wired notes. Just under 90 jobs will be created as a result, according to the Triangle Business Journal.

In addition to the $21 million grant, Medicago will contribute $7.5 million and Alexandria Real Estate Equities will give $13.5 million, according to a company statement.

Vaccines are traditionally produced in eggs--a process that can take six months or more. But Medicago uses tobacco plants, which has shown it can produce a vaccine in only a month, according to Wired. During the recent H1N1 influenza outbreak, Medicago's plant-based VLP vaccine technology was able to successfully develop a vaccine candidate in less than a month after identifying the H1N1 strain, the company notes in a statement.

"This DARPA funding line with our development plan for both our pandemic and seasonal influenza products as we will now have a U.S. facility ready to participate in the $7B pandemic and seasonal influenza markets," Andy Sheldon, president and CEO of Medicago, says in a statement. "In addition, our U.S. facility will provide us enhanced access to the various grant programs in the U.S.A. and we will be ready to take part in these additional funding opportunities."

And facility is a lot less expensive than it would be to build an egg- or cell-culture- based facility. "The capital expense to build such a facility--we would generally estimate that it's somewhere between 10 to 15 times less than if was an egg-based or cell-culture facility," CEO Andy Sheldon explains to Reuters, adding that the cost of goods is also much less than egg-based or cell-based production.

A number of companies are looking to alternatives to egg-based production, including fungi, bacteria and bugs.

- get the DARPA release
- read Wired's coverage
- here's the Reuters report
- check out the Triangle Business Journal's report

ALSO: Shares of Medicago plunged nearly 18 percent on Tuesday following its announcement of a $7 million equity offering. The company subsequently announced an increase of the equity offering to $7.5 million. Report