RTP company using plants to make flu vaccines - WNCN: News, Weather

What's Next
What's Next

RTP company using plants to make flu vaccines

Posted: Updated:
RTP, N.C. -

Every year North Carolinians are urged to get a flu shot, and this season is one of the worst with 17 flu-related deaths in our state.

There have even been reports of vaccine shortages, but Medicago in Research Triangle Park is promising to change the way we handle flu pandemics with the Nicotiana Benthamiana plant, which is a relative of the tobacco plant.  

The large-leafed plant could revolutionize how we vaccinate against the deadly flu virus. Mike Wanner with Medicago says his company is using those large leaves to make vaccines more quickly. 

"The current egg-based technology takes about four to six months. Comparably we could do that in two to three months," says Wanner. 

The other benefit of plant-based vaccines is that they are cheaper to make and cut production costs.

"The sun is giving us energy we need. We recycle all the fertilizer and liquid," says Wanner. 

To make the vaccine, it goes from seedling to full plant in about five weeks. Then the state of the art process begins in the Infiltration Room at Medicago.

Medicago's Todd Talarico says this is where the magic really happens, where racks of plants are turned upside down, lowered into a vacuum infiltration unit. The vacuum then draws the air out of the surface of the plant leaf. And then like a sponge, the leaves absorb the agro-bacterium solution. 

Talarico says, "this is special bacteria. They are known in nature to be able to take a piece of their dna and transfer it into the plant cell. 

The plants are now essentially a host which will carry a flu fighting DNA. After this process, the plants are taken into a different area of Medicago where they are watered and exposed to a certain amount of light. 

The leaves of the plants hold the key virus particles. They are chopped into small segments and moved into a large digestion kettle. Enzymes break down the leaves into a liquid form that can then be purified into a flu vaccine. 

If all goes as planned, Medicago says it can produce 10 million doses of the flu vaccine per month. Clinical trials for the seasonal flu vaccine begin this year.  Medicago's plant-based vaccines go beyond the flu. It's also being tested to immunize against rabies and rotavirus.

Melanie Sanders

Melanie's "What's Next" series features an engaging approach to storytelling and highlights the leaders in innovation who are shaping our future. Check it out HERE! More>>

  • Trending StoriesMore>>

  • Letter found with body of App State student, police say

    Letter found with body of App State student, police say

    Monday, September 15 2014 5:16 PM EDT2014-09-15 21:16:12 GMT
    The body of Anna Smith was discovered in a heavily wooded area in Boone.The body of Anna Smith was discovered in a heavily wooded area in Boone.
    The Boone Police Department said a letter was discovered with the body of an Appalachian State University student, indicating her death may have been a suicide.
    The Boone Police Department said a letter was discovered with the body of an Appalachian State University student, indicating her death may have been a suicide.
  • 'Party mansion' owner convicted of tax and healthcare fraud

    'Party mansion' owner convicted of tax and healthcare fraud

    Friday, September 12 2014 12:38 PM EDT2014-09-12 16:38:35 GMT
    File photoFile photo
    A former Raleigh resident, known for the wild parties held at his “party mansion” in North Raleigh, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for tax fraud, healthcare fraud and money laundering crimes, according to a United States Department of Justice release.
    A former Raleigh resident, known for the wild parties held at his “party mansion” in North Raleigh, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for tax fraud, healthcare fraud and money laundering crimes, according to a United States Department of Justice release.
  • 3 Panther Creek students injured in Cary crash

    3 Panther Creek students injured in Cary crash

    Tuesday, September 16 2014 11:23 AM EDT2014-09-16 15:23:24 GMT
    Highway 55 at McCrimmon Pkwy. in Cary is closed due to an accident involving a dump truck and an SUV.
    Highway 55 at McCrimmon Pkwy. in Cary is closed due to an accident involving a dump truck and an SUV.
Powered by WorldNow

1205 Front St., Raleigh
N.C., 27609

Telephone: 919.836.1717
Fax: 919.836.1687
Email: newstips@wncn.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.