Did you get a H1N1 flu shot? You can thank unhatched chicken eggs for that. But a new venture dubbed Project GreenVax aims to take animals completely out of the equation by making vaccines with tobacco plants.
In traditional influenza vaccine production, scientists inject the virus into fluid surrounding a chicken embryo. After many days of incubation, the eggs are opened and the virus is removed and purified to make a vaccine. It's a slow process—it takes two weeks to make an egg-based vaccine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates it would take a whopping 900 million eggs to make 300 million doses of vaccine.
Enter Project GreenVax, a venture spearheaded by the Texas Plant-Expressed Vaccine Consortium that plans to use plants instead of eggs to make high-yield, low-cost influenza vaccines. The venture has received $61 million in funding from the TPVC and DARPA for its approach, which involves infecting tobacco plant leaves with a virus, grinding up the leaves, and separating the antigens.
GreenVax is beginning construction next week on its 13,500-square-meter facility at the Texas A&M Health Science Center in Bryant, Texas. When completed in approximately 8 weeks, the prefab facility will house nine modular pods to grow tobacco plants and perform research.
There's still plenty of work to be done before we start getting injected with plant-based vaccines. FDA rules for the vaccines are still a bit dicey, for one. That's because scientists haven't been able to produce a single approved plant-based vaccine in over a decade of research. But if GreenVax succeeds, the company could save lives in the case of a pandemic—while it would take the entire planet's labs 12 months to make three billion doses of H1N1 vaccine using the egg approach, GreenVax claims that its single facility in Texas could scale up to generate 100 million vaccines each month.
[Via Scientific American]