NORWOOD, Massachusetts – Moderna has been busy teaching hundreds how to make billions upon billions of doses its coronavirus vaccine. However, a small group of scientists from the biotech company want to reduce their production. Literally.
Moderna’s Norwood research center, Massachusetts has been home to a team of 15 scientists who have worked with the US Army over the past few months in developing a miniature way to produce vaccines.
The real world is still many years away from these small-scale capsules. They could have a greater impact on the world than Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. It could stop pandemics from ever starting if they succeed. The project is internally known as DART (pronounced Deployable AcceleratedRNA Technology).
Moderna’s mRNA technology can be used to combat outbreaks. The capsules are a first step in realizing its full potential. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel spoke out in favor of a plug-and-play approach to vaccine creation. Moderna already uses mRNA for vaccines against pathogens like cytomegalovirus and respiratory syncytial viruses.
The 2-dose vaccine against coronavirus is 94% effective and was approved in the US in December last year. In Europe, it was approved on January 6, 2020 and began being used in the campaign within the first fortnight. From January. Moderna intends to produce 800 to 1 billion doses before the end this year, and as many as 3 billion by 2022.
These experimental units will produce 500 doses against almost any virus and fit in a 2-meter cube. All you have to do is enter the genetic code for what you wish to attack.
Brynne Cassidy is a Moderna senior engineer and is the leader of the project. It is hugely advantageous to be able to stop the virus from spreading in your locality before it spreads around the globe.
Moderna was the first company to test a coronavirus vaccine on humans in March 2020. Only 42 days had passed from the time the genetic sequence of virus was discovered until the launch the first human trial. Cassidy explained that DART’s goal was to move even faster.
Cassidy explains that the idea behind it is to be used in military installations all over the world. It can also produce vaccine doses quickly if there is an immediate need.” “The goal is to produce the final doses in as little time as possible,” Cassidy says.
He believes that the work could make these drugs more affordable. Inequality has been a problem in the deployment of coronavirus vaccinations, since rich countries have gotten most of the supply.
The world could have vaccine production units distributed around the globe, allowing low- and medium-income countries to have access. Expert details suggest that the logistical difficulties of keeping vaccines cool during storage can be solved with local, almost instantaneous manufacturing.
Miniaturization research is still in its infancy
Moderna announced the plan in October. The funding for this project comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Army. Moderna spokeswoman explained that the proposal was made before the start of work on the coronavirus vaccine.
Moderna is still at the beginning of its research and has not yet integrated its technology into the cube. There are two lab rooms that have robots that can manipulate liquids or machines that make DNA.
DART would generate a complete-length DNA template from scratch in a cell-free manner. This DNA is used to make the messenger RNA which forms the backbone for the vaccine. This unit will include a kit to purify and verify the quality of the mRNA throughout and after the process.
An mRNA vaccine is a way to teach your immune cells how to fight viruses. This instrument could encode genetic instructions for a vaccine against any virus.
Now, the team is deciding which parts of the manufacturing process should be included, which can be skipped, and how to reduce or integrate these necessary parts into an automated unit that fits into a small box.
The key to harnessing the mRNA technology to fight viruses, cancer, and other diseases is manufacturing
This idea is based on the promise of mRNA vaccinations, a new method of vaccination that relies on genetics. Traditional vaccines are made in large, custom-built facilities that can take many years to construct.
Moderna isn’t the only one that has small-scale ventures. CureVac, a German vaccine developer, is working with Tesla to create what Elon Musk calls “RNA micro-factories”. SQZ Biotech also works on miniaturized vaccine production capsules.
Moderna has a 5-year contract with DARPA. It aims to do a study in the fifth to show that DART can produce drugs comparable to traditional manufacturing processes.
The goal for now is to produce the mRNA product. The last step in manufacturing, the filling and packing of individual vials, would not be included in the production units. Cassidy explained that, although the contract allows for the filling and packaging of individual vials, the main focus now is on the validation of the core technology.
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