Mar 022010

Mini Lab

Texas researchers are planning to use a combination of tobacco plants and podlike laboratories to speed the production of new vaccines

The H1N1 virus‘s rapid spread worldwide last year exposed the weaknesses in the global system for swiftly developing, manufacturing and distributing vaccines for newly identified strains of influenza. In Texas, researchers are attacking the first two of these problems through Project GreenVax, which will use a plant-based approach to vaccine development and a modular manufacturing environment that can scale quickly as vaccine demand grows.

Project GreenVax is led by the Texas Plant-Expressed Vaccine Consortium, a joint venture of The Texas A&M University System and pharmaceutical facility technology maker G-Con, LLC, both located in College Station, Texas. The consortium is investing $21 million in GreenVax to go along with the $40 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

In the course of just seven months last year the spread of H1N1 influenza worsened from an outbreak specific to Mexico and the United States to a global pandemic and U.S. national emergency. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that, by the end of the year, H1N1 was responsible for more than 12,200 deaths and had turned up in 208 countries. Although the first cases were reported in April, the first vaccine doses did not start shipping until October.

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunization projected in October that it would take the world’s labs 12 months to produce about three billion doses of H1N1 vaccine. GreenVax’s initial test run is expected to produce 10 million doses of H1N1 vaccine in 12 months using tobacco plants to develop the antibodies. If successful, the researchers say their facility alone could be scaled up to produce 100 million vaccine doses per month.

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