Medicago plants $245m seed for plant-based vaccine plant

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

Medicago uses Nicotiana benthamiana, a relative of the tobacco plant, to produce vaccines
Medicago uses Nicotiana benthamiana, a relative of the tobacco plant, to produce vaccines

Related tags Influenza

Medicago has ploughed $245m into an influenza vaccine plant that will use a tobacco-based technology it says produces high yields quicker than with egg-based platforms.

The plant, set to be completed by 2019, will be built in Quebec City's Espace d'innovation D'Estimauville and will serve as Medicago’s HQ as well as have the capacity to produce between 40-50 million doses of quadrivalent seasonal flu vaccines.

“We will export most of our vaccines to foreign markets, but we also believe our new production complex will help Canada meet its needs for seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines, in addition to strengthening the country's response to emerging diseases around the world,”​ the firm’s CEO Andy Sheldon said.

The $245m (€220m) investment will create up to 200 jobs at the planned 44,000m2​ facility, more than doubling the firm’s current workforce. The project has been supported by the governments of Canada and Quebec which have provided loans of $8m and $60m, respectively.

Plant-based vaccine manufacturing

Medicago manufactures vaccines using its plant-based Proficia technology, an alternative to current egg-based and cell production systems that uses Nicotiana benthamiana​ – a relative of the tobacco plant - as a host.

This produces efficient protein expression of different complexity levels and glycosylation patterns at higher yields and lower costs than traditional systems, the company says, and allows rapid and economic scale-up in case of a pandemic.

“This technology demonstrated its potential for responding to global pandemics when it produced candidate vaccines for H1N1 in 2009 and H7N9 in 2013 in just 19 days, compared to the several months required to produce vaccines using eggs,”​ the company claims.

Medicago is also developing technology that uses transgenic alfalfa for the production of recombinant proteins which it says may have applications in such fields as biosimilars.

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