At the Y

Speeding Up Vaccine Production

BYU researchers hope a new production system will make vaccines more readily available domestically and internationally. Photo by Mark A. Philbrick.

It's as easy as "just add water."

BYU researchers have devised a system to speed up the process of making life-saving vaccines for new viruses.

Their concept is to create the biological machinery for vaccine production en masse, put it in freeze-dried kits, and stockpile it around the country. Then, when a new virus hits, labs can simply add water.

“You could just pull it off the shelf and make it,” says senior author Bradley C. Bundy (BS ’04), associate professor of chemical engineering. “We could . . . be ready for distribution in a day.”

The research, published in Biotechnology Journal, demonstrates the ability to store the drug and vaccine-making machinery for more than a year.

Traditional systems take months to produce vaccines for pandemic influenza strains because they require heavy engineering and specialized equipment that few labs across the country have on hand.

Bundy’s idea builds on the emerging method of “cell-free protein synthesis,” which combines DNA to make proteins needed for drugs (instead of growing protein in a cell). His lab is creating a system where much of the work is done beforehand so kits can be simply and quickly activated.

“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,” adds William
G. Pitt (BS ’83), a study coauthor and fellow professor of chemical engineering.

While the team is now testing its process for vaccine production, it has already successfully demonstrated it for at least one anti-cancer protein (onconase).

The researchers believe their method can significantly reduce investment of time and money toward future drug production and, in turn, reduce patients’ treatment expenses.

“The drugs today are changing,” Bundy says. “The drugs with the greatest impact are made out of proteins, not small chemical molecules. This method takes full advantage of that to provide a quicker, more personal response.”

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