Plant-Based Technology Makes Leap Forward in Rapid Vaccine Development

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Health & Medicine
Emerging Technologies
February 9, 2024

In a groundbreaking development poised to revolutionize vaccine production, a new study in Germany will explore the potential of a technology harnessing plant cell extracts to expedite the creation of vaccine proteins. This innovative approach, pioneered by Düsseldorf-based biotech firm LenioBio GmbH, has garnered up to $2 million in funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), marking a significant stride in the fight against epidemic and pandemic threats.

The technology, known as ALiCE® (Almost Living Cell-Free Expression), taps into the protein synthesis machinery of plant cells, such as enzymes and other biological components, for a cell-free rapid expression of proteins. This method can generate proteins for clinical trial vaccines in a mere 20-40 days, a remarkable reduction from the quarter-year timeframe typical of conventional methods like cell cultures.

ALiCE® has already demonstrated its capability in producing a variety of proteins for vaccines and other pharmaceuticals, including viral antigens, antibody formats, and membrane proteins. The CEPI funding aims to validate this technology further, focusing on its efficacy in swiftly manufacturing clinical trial materials for vaccines.

The technology aligns with the 100 Days Mission, an initiative by CEPI, endorsed by the G7 and G20, to develop vaccines against new pathogens within 100 days of their identification, potentially halting future pandemics at their inception.

Ingrid Kromann, CEPI’s Acting Executive Director of Manufacturing and Supply Chain, underscored the significance of this study. "LenioBio’s technology may be a game-changer when quickly responding to future outbreaks," Kromann said. "This study will explore whether ALiCE® can support the rapid and scalable development of viable protein-based vaccine candidates and move these promising candidates more quickly into clinical trials, pushing forward our goal to achieve the 100 Days Mission.”

Beyond its speed, ALiCE® is noted for its simplicity and potential for deployment in remote or resource-limited settings, bringing vaccines closer to those in dire need. Moreover, given its minimal operational footprint, it could diminish the carbon emissions linked with traditional vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

André Goerke, CEO of LenioBio, expressed optimism about collaborating with CEPI. "Embarking on this collaborative study with CEPI provides us with a great opportunity to demonstrate the significant potential of our ALiCE® protein production platform," Goerke stated. "This project supports our goals of enabling accelerated discovery and development of essential medicines and brings us a step closer to our long-term vision of creating fast access to essential medicines for patients."

Protein-based vaccines, with roots in the 1980s Hepatitis B vaccine and recent applications in COVID-19 vaccines, traditionally rely on whole cell (in vivo) techniques. However, LenioBio's cell-free approach offers a more rapid production timeline, bypassing the need for extensive cell-line development and massive cell cultures or intricate protein purification processes typical of in vivo methods.

This partnership between CEPI and LenioBio aims to optimize vaccine production and ensure equitable access to the resulting vaccines, adhering to CEPI's Equitable Access Policy. This includes a commitment to prioritizing at-risk populations with affordable vaccines developed through this project, alongside open-access publication of relevant data for the global scientific community.

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