Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation (CMI)
CMI, working jointly with Fraunhofer CMB, has developed a fully automated, scalable "factory" that uses natural (non-genetically-modified) green plants to efficiently produce large quantities of vaccines and therapeutics within weeks. Such a rapid vaccine production facility will play a crucial role in addressing and containing future pandemics and emerging biological threats.
This first-of-a-kind, plant-based vaccine factory takes advantage of plant viral vector technology (developed at CMB) that enables production of specific proteins within the leaves of rapidly growing plant biomass. The factory’s robotically tended, custom engineered machines plant seeds, nurture the growing plants, introduce a viral vector that directs the plant to produce a target protein and harvest the biomass once the target has accumulated in the plant tissue. Traditional methods of vaccine production can take many months. This plant-based technology enables rapid, large scale production of vaccine material in a cost-effective manner. It has the potential to revolutionize how biological materials are manufactured.
The factory was designed to be time, cost and space efficient. It has the capacity to grow tens of thousands of plants in one batch. The plants are grown in multi-plant trays that are used to handle and transport the plants to the different processing stations. To automate the process, robots glide up and down a track, tending the plants – delivering trays from the lighted, irrigated growth modules to each processing station at the appropriate time. In order to quickly produce large quantities of vaccine material or other protein-based medicines, such as antibodies, in compliance with cGMP, (Current Good Manufacturing Practices), it was necessary to develop a consistent, repeatable process. Even though the process of making vaccines from plants includes many aspects of traditional horticulture such as growing, watering and harvesting, the entire process was automated using techniques found in industrial type processes. This enabled quick, safe, and cost-effective scale-up from a few milligrams in a laboratory setting to the many kilograms that would be required in case of a pandemic. The resulting process is faster, less expensive, safer, and does not require the sophisticated culturing or fermentation necessary in the current vaccine production processes. This will be the first cGMP facility for plant-based protein production.
This unique, plant-based vaccine factory resulted from a three-year collaboration between Fraunhofer and Boston University. "This is a perfect example of coupling engineering expertise and scientific advancement to cost-effectively meet a societal need," remarked Robert Brown, president of Boston University and a chemical engineer. "It is a model for collaboration that we strongly believe in on our campus, as they do at Fraunhofer as well."
Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation
15 St. Mary’s Street
Brookline, MA 02446-8200
Tel: (617) 353 1888
Fax: (617) 353 1896
Parent Institute: www.ipt.fraunhofer.de
Dr. Andre Sharon, Executive Director