Medicago, which works for the US Department of Defense, produced the VLP using proprietary plant-based technology. The production of the VLP is the first step in developing a vaccine for COVID-19 which will now undergo preclinical testing for safety and efficacy.
Medicago was able to produce the VLP fast using plant-based technology, a proprietary potential alternative to traditional egg-based production systems. Traditional vaccine production requires using a lot of eggs. However, this practice is not only expensive but also takes a long time and is far from perfect.
Plants vs virus
Medicago does not work with a live virus but uses plants. Their technology inserts a genetic sequence into Agrobacterium, a soil bacterium, which is taken up by plants. The plant begins to produce the protein that can then be used as a vaccine. If the virus begins to mutate, as is expected for COVID-19, they can just update the production using new plants.
“That’s the difference between us and egg-based methods,” Medicago CEO Bruce Clark said. “We go directly to producing the vaccine or the antibody without having to propagate the virus.” Using plants and genetically engineered Agrobacterium works faster than eggs also makes the vaccine much easier to produce at scale. Medicago claims it has the capacity to produce 10 million doses of vaccine per month.