DARPA has awarded Medicago $21 million to demonstrate the scalable manufacturing of its plant-expressed VLP vaccines in the U.S. under a technology investment agreement. Medicago will develop a 90,000 square foot facility in Research Triangle Park (RTP), NC. The firm will scale up and automate its cGMP process to demonstrate its capacity to produce 10 million doses/month of influenza vaccines with the potential for future expansion.
This DARPA project is an integrated effort to deliver effective production of pandemic influenza in the U.S. The Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) program seeks to identify new ways to produce large amounts of high-quality vaccine protein in less than three months in response to emerging and novel biologic threats. The strategic collaboration is a $42 million project in which DARPA contributes $21 million, Medicago $7.5 million, and Alexandria Real Estate Equities $13.5 million.
"It's vitally important to our homeland security that we have a robust domestic vaccine supply, and this facility will add to our production capacity helping mitigate future threats," remarks Congressman David Price, chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. "Medicago's facility will ultimately bring hundreds of good paying jobs to the region, and DARPA's investment in this project is another significant contribution to local recovery efforts."
Medicago is developing VLP vaccines to protect against pandemic and seasonal influenza using a transient expression system that produces recombinant vaccine antigens in nontransgenic plants. Their lead vaccine candidate, H5N1, will reportedly be entering a Phase II trial later this year.
The company points out that its technology has the potential to offer advantages of speed and cost over competitive technologies. Medicago says that it could deliver a vaccine for testing in about a month after the identification and reception of genetic sequences from a pandemic strain.