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Faster, more affordable vaccine purification
Generating safe antigens to induce immunity is one of several key steps in vaccine production. Purification is another, and it is typically a complex process. EU-funded researchers have designed a way to simplify the process, boost yields, limit waste and reduce costs, in a bid to help make more doses available more affordably.

The EU-funded DIVINE project harnessed a separation technique known as affinity chromatography for the purification of vaccines. This method produces much higher yields than conventional approaches and significantly reduces the cost of purification, one of the main expenses in vaccine production, according to project coordinator Manuel Carrondo of iBET, a Portuguese non-profit institution fostering and conducting collaborative biotech research.

The separation technique championed by DIVINE introduces a capture step by which antigens can be pulled out of the broth in which they were grown or amplified, Carrondo notes.

Extracting the vaccine contrasts with the conventional approach which focuses on stripping out the impurities. It is a ‘positive’ rather than a ‘negative’ technique, he explains.

Current methods involve several steps. These processes substantially add to the cost of individual doses, in part because they tend to be wasteful, removing significant amounts of product along with the impurities and inflating the amount of resources – notably water – used in vaccine production.

The DIVINE solution involves just one main step. Along with this new technique, DIVINE demonstrated the potential of an innovative, partly bio-based type of membrane – produced by Danish project partner Aquaporin – to extract clean water from the effluent cost-effectively and sustainably, Carrondo adds.

Higher yields, lower costs, less waste

Affinity chromatography uses ‘hooks’ known as ligands to ‘fish out’ the desired molecules. ‘The ligands are specifically tailored to individual vaccines and they must be sufficiently robust for reuse, which also helps to reduce the costs associated with purification,’ Carrondo explains.

The ligands used in DIVINE are reengineered proteins supplied by project partner Affilogic under the trade name Nanofitins. These are then prepared for use in the chromatography process by project partner Merck. Nanofitins may also find applications in other areas, such as medical imaging and cancer treatment.

A positive attitude

DIVINE ended in February 2020. The solution it proposed is a first in that it transposes an existing separation concept not previously applied in the vaccination field, Carrondo observes. To demonstrate feasibility, DIVINE adapted it for three examples representative of different types of vaccines.

It took several years and a lot of trial, error and determination to make this proposition work, Carrondo says – but once the breakthrough was achieved, the potential did not go unnoticed. Project partner GSK decided to adopt the technology for one of its candidate vaccines. ‘From every point of view, the case for affinity use in vaccine production is compelling,’ Carrondo concludes.

Project details

  • Project acronym: DiViNe
  • Participants: Portugal (Coordinator), Italy, Germany, Denmark, France
  • Project N°: 635770
  • Total costs: € 7 632 281
  • EU contribution: € 5 790 580
  • Duration: March 2015 to February 2020

See also
Project details: https://cordis.europa.eu/project/id/635770

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