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Vaccine Technology, Inspired by Plants

The impact of the global pandemic put vaccine technology instantly in the spotlight. The need for a variety of manufacturing technologies to meet the challenges of today, and to prepare the world for future outbreaks has never felt more obvious. An unprecedented array of both traditional and novel vaccine development approaches has been deployed. Among the latter, plant-based vaccine candidates could play an important role in the continued struggle against coronavirus, and a major role in the response to future pandemics.

The Origin of Plant-Based Vaccines

Initial efforts to use plants to produce vaccines focused on the idea of so-called ‘edible vaccines’ that were based on transgenic crops, such as potatoes or bananas. Although this early work showed promise, plant-based vaccine technology took a major leap forward with the idea of using plants as bioreactors – or mini-factories – to create the key biological components of vaccines. The platform technology currently in use has been in development for more than three decades: it is considerably faster than the original transgenic approach, and avoids the controversies associated with genetically modified organisms. The first candidate plant-based vaccines produced by transient transfection were reported in 1989 at the Scripps Research Institute in California. Believing in the potential of the technology, a growing number of groups worked hard through the early 1990s to assess the promise of the approach. In 1998, scientists at the National Institute of Allergic and Infectious Diseases demonstrated that plant-based vaccines could elicit strong immune responses, a significant milestone in the evolution of this technology.

Brian J Ward at Medicago (October 2021)

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