Scientists discover 'just-add-water' solution to make vaccines faster

By @iamkarlatecson on

A team of U.S. researchers have devised a “just-add-water” system to speed up the process of making life-saving vaccines for new viruses.

According to scientists at the Brigham Young University, their concept is to create the biological machinery for mass production of vaccines, put it in a freeze-dried state and stockpile it around the country. When a new virus hits, laboratories can simply add water to a “kit” to rapidly produce vaccines, the team says.

“You could just pull it off the shelf and make it. We could make the vaccine and be ready for distribution in a day,” says the study’s senior author Brad Bundy, associate professor of chemical engineering. 

Their findings, published in Biotechnology Journal, demonstrate the ability to store the drug and vaccine-making machinery for more than a year, according to the team.

The team hopes their new discovery will address issues of traditional systems to produce vaccines for pandemic influenza strains, which require heavy engineering and specialised equipment that only a few labs across the country have on hand. These traditional systems are also time-consuming, taking months to execute.

Bundy’s idea is a new angle on the emerging method of “cell-free protein synthesis,” a process that combines DNA to make proteins needed for drugs, instead of growing protein in a cell. His lab is creating a system where the majority of the work is done beforehand so vaccine kits can be ready to go and be activated at the drop of a dime.

“It will not only provide a quicker response to pandemics, but it will also make protein-based drugs more available to third-world countries where production and refrigerated storage can be problematic,” says William Pitt, a professor of chemical engineering and co-author of the study.

While the team is now testing their version of the cell-free, recombinant DNA process for vaccine production, they’ve already successfully demonstrated it for at least one anti-cancer protein. They believe their method can significantly reduce investment of time and money towards future drug production and, in turn, reduce treatment expenses for patients.

Today’s lifesaving cancer drugs, as well as the drugs with the greatest impact, are made out of proteins and not small chemical molecules, Bundy says. This method takes full advantage of that to provide a quicker, more personal response, he adds.

In March 2015, Pakistan reportedly lost pentavalent vaccines worth millions, which were donated by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. The vaccines, which protect children against five diseases were spoilt because they were not properly stored, according to authorities.

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