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Current Affairs

Flu vaccine derived from tobacco plants

Date: 10 November 2020 Tags: Biotechnology

Issue

A new flu vaccine grown in plants has been put to the test in two large-scale clinical trials.

 

Background

The vaccine contained virus-like particles which resembled circulating flu strains, extracted from native Australian tobacco relatives.

 

Details

  • The two trials results suggest that the plant-derived vaccine is not only safe, but comparable to current commercial flu vaccines.

  • Most influenza vaccines are currently made using virus particles grown in and harvested from chicken eggs or lab-grown cells, which can take months together.

  • Plants, which can be engineered to produce select proteins and cultivated at scale, could be an alternative, helping to boost our capacity to produce seasonal flu vaccines.

  • The technique might also help to overcome complications encountered in the way current flu vaccines are manufactured that sometimes makes vaccines less effective.  

  • The researchers used an Australian relative of the tobacco plant, Nicotiana benthamiana, engineered to produce just the outer shell of influenza viruses.

  • These virus-like particles are then extracted and purified under strict conditions to make a flu vaccine. 

  • Although this high benchmark was not reached in the trial, the vaccine did protect about a third of people from flu strains circulating in the 2017-2018 Northern Hemisphere winter that were a match for the viral particles in this vaccine.

  • This is the first time a plant vaccine has been tested in a human clinical trial. It is a milestone for this technology and sows the seeds for other plant-based vaccines and therapeutics.