Production of tree-saving transformative vaccine adjuvant with in-lab plants

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© Botanical Solutions Inc.
© Botanical Solutions Inc.

Related tags vaccine adjuvant adjuvant Botanical Solutions Inc. tree bark Chile

During DCAT this year, CEO Gaston Salinas from Botanical Solution Inc., (BSI), sat down with Liza Laws, the senior editor of OSP and BPR to discuss his company’s pioneering work in revolutionizing vaccine adjuvant production.

We delved into the fascinating world of vaccine adjuvants, particularly focusing on QS-21, a purified plant extract derived from the soap bark tree (Quillaja saponaria) indigenous to Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. Known for its potential in boosting vaccine effectiveness, QS-21 contains water-soluble triterpene glycosides, a type of compound called saponins, which are believed to enhance both humoral and cell-mediated immunity. During the discussion  the significance of QS-21 as a vaccine adjuvant and its implications for vaccine development was discussed.

Quillaja saponaria photo

LL: Could you provide us with some insights into the challenges BSI faced in sourcing QS-21 and how you overcame them?

GS:​ The demand for QS-21 has been high, but traditional extraction methods faced hurdles due to deforestation laws and supply chain issues. At BSI, we've developed a unique method for growing these trees in our labs and extracting QS-21 from them while they are in vitro. This approach allows us to meet demand sustainably and consistently.

LL: Can you elaborate on the early stages of developing this method and the obstacles you encountered?

GS:​ When we started, we didn't anticipate the potential of our method to revolutionize vaccine production. Our initial focus was on developing plant tissue culture technologies for biofungicides. However, we soon realized the sustainability goals and the difficulty in accessing raw materials posed significant challenges. We had to adapt our protocols to encourage the expression and accumulation of QS-21 in plant tissues, transitioning from crude extracts to high-purity compounds.

LL:  It sounds like quite the journey; how did you feel when you discovered the magnitude of this innovation?

GS:​ Initially, it was overwhelming to realize the impact our work could have on both agriculture and healthcare. We had to navigate skepticism from our board and investors, but we remained committed to our vision. Securing funding and gaining traction with pharmaceutical giants validated our efforts and fueled our confidence.

LL: Nature has a lot to teach us. Could you elaborate on the significance of QS-21 in vaccine production and why it's been challenging to obtain?

GS:​ QS-21 has been pivotal in developing adjuvant systems that enhance vaccine efficacy. While it's been around for decades, its formulation breakthroughs by companies like GSK have propelled its use in blockbuster vaccines like Shingrix. However, the traditional extraction methods using harmful organic solvents and the limited availability of the compound have hindered its widespread use.

LL: That's quite a bottleneck in vaccine development. What is BSI's approach to growing and extracting sources to address these challenges?

Gaston Salinas CEO - Botanical Solution Inc_

GS:​ Our focus has been on optimizing the upstream process of growing trees and extracting QS-21, making it more cost-effective and scalable. By refining our plant tissue culture techniques and genetic manipulation, we aim to produce trees that naturally yield higher quantities of QS-21. Additionally, innovations in downstream manufacturing and purification systems will further enhance accessibility to QS 21.

LL: What key milestones have BSI achieved so far, and what partnerships are on the horizon?

GS:​ BSI has garnered industry recognition for its innovative approach, winning several awards for our process and products. Our partnerships with pharmaceutical giants have validated the quality and efficacy of our QS-21. Moving forward, we aim to expand collaborations with vaccine developers and technology companies to advance vaccine adjuvant systems.

LL: Could you walk us through BSI's plans and aspirations?

GS:​ Our ultimate goal is to become a fully-fledged pharmaceutical company, utilizing our unique compounds to develop novel vaccines and therapeutics. Building on the success of QS-21, we envision leveraging other derivatives from the same tree to address a broader range of diseases. By combining cutting-edge technology with nature-inspired solutions, we strive to make a lasting impact on global healthcare.

LL: Any final thoughts on BSI's journey and its significance in the pharmaceutical industry?

GS:​ BSI's journey exemplifies the power of innovation and sustainability in addressing critical healthcare challenges. By harnessing nature's resources and leveraging biotechnology, we are paving the way for a more resilient and equitable vaccine landscape. Our story underscores the importance of collaboration and perseverance in driving meaningful change.

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