DARPA’s Blue Angel
The Pentagon’s DARPA lab has announced a milestone, but it doesn’t involve drones or death missiles. Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency say they’ve produced 10 million doses of an influenza vaccine in only one month’s time.
In a press release out of the agency’s office this week, scientists with DARPA say they’ve reach an important step in being able to combat a flu pandemic that might someday decimate the Earth’s population. By working with the Medicago Inc. vaccine company, the Pentagon’s cutting edge research lab says that they’ve used a massive harvest of tobacco plants to help produce a plethora of flu-fighting vaccines.
“Testing confirmed that a single dose of the H1N1 VLP influenza vaccine candidate induced protective levels of hemagglutinin antibodies in an animal model when combined with a standard aluminum adjuvant,” the agency writes, while still noting, though, that “The equivalent dose required to protect humans from natural disease can only be determined by future, prospective clinical trials.”
Researchers have before relied on using chicken eggs to harvest compounds to use in influenza vaccines. With a future outbreak requiring scientists to step up with a solution as soon as possible, though, they’ve turned to tobacco plants to help produce the vaccines.
“Vaccinating susceptible populations during the initial stage of a pandemic is critical to containment,” Dr. Alan Magill, DARPA program manager, says in an official statement. “We’re looking at plant-based solutions to vaccine production as a more rapid and efficient alternative to the standard egg-based technologies, and the research is very promising.”
The World Health Organization has gone on the record to say that as much as half of the people on the planet could be affected by a pandemic in the near future, and it could take as much as nine months for a vaccine for a pandemic virus strain to become made available. With the lives of billions of people across the world at stake, DARPA has been trying to determine new ways of churning out antidotes in as little time as possible. Now its researchers say, that in only a month, scientists “produced more than 10 million doses (as defined in an animal model) of an H1N1 influenza vaccine candidate based on virus-like particles (VLP).”
Through DARPA’s previously established Blue Angel program, researchers have spent several years searching for new ways to produce mass quantities of vaccine-grade protein that could be used to combat what they say are very real emerging and novel biological threats.
Andy Sheldon, Chief Executive Officer of Medicago , says in the company’s own press release that “The completion of the rapid fire test marks a substantial achievement in demonstrating our technology and the potential for Medicago to be the first responder in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak.”
Medicago’s research was conducted in a 97,000-square-foot vaccine facility in North Carolina that was funded through a $21 million Technology Investment Agreement with DARPA.