A biopharmaceutical company, Medicago, headquartered in Quebec City, Canada, says it has successfully produced a virus-like particle of the coronavirus 20 days after obtaining the SARS-CoV-2 (virus causing the COVID-19 disease) gene.
Medicago is using a virus-like particle grown in nicotiana benthamiana, a close relative of the tobacco plant, to develop a potential vaccine against the coronavirus disease that has now reached a global pandemic level.
In major research, production of the VLP is the first step in developing a vaccine for COVID-19 before undergoing pre-clinical testing for safety and efficacy, the researchers said.
The Chief Executive Officer of Medicago, Bruce Clark, said the pace of the company’s progress in COVID-19 research was attributable to the capability of its plant-based platform, which is used to develop protein-based therapeutics.
“The ability to produce a candidate vaccine within 20 days after obtaining the gene is a critical differentiator for our proven technology. This technology enables scale-up at unprecedented speed to potentially combat COVID-19,” Clark said in a statement obtained by our correspondent.
Once completed, Medicago expects to discuss with the appropriate health agencies to initiate human trials of the vaccine by July/August 2020.
The company is one of the few science-based outfits that do not use eggs but plants such as tobacco as a basis for vaccines.
According to Bio Space, a clinical review site, the use of traditional vaccine development in chicken eggs, by comparison, takes six to nine months.
“Vaccine manufacturers inject the virus into the eggs, where it propagates. But using eggs is expensive, takes a long time, and is far from perfect. Mutations can yield vaccines that don’t match up to the virus they aim to shut down.
“Using a plant-based approach is relatively new, but it has advanced rapidly in the past decade. It inserts a genetic sequence into agrobacterium, a soil-based bacterium, which is taken up by plants – in this case, a close relative of a tobacco plant.
“The plant begins to produce the protein that can then be used as a vaccine. If the virus begins to mutate, as is expected for COVID-19, they can update the production using new plants,” Bio Space stated.
Medicago further hinted that the company is using its technology to develop antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, in collaboration with Laval University’s Infectious Disease Research Centre.
The antibodies could potentially be used to treat people infected by the virus and Laval University programme is headed by Gary Kobinger, who helped develop a vaccine and treatment for Ebola. – Agency report