iBio licences plant-based system for rapid vaccine production to G-Con

12 March 2010

iBio, Inc. (OTCBB:IBPM) has announced that it has agreed in principle to license its iBioLaunch platform to G-Con, LLC, a private Texas company, and its affiliates, for the development and manufacture of plant-expressed influenza vaccines at a new facility being constructed in Bryan, Texas.

The “GreenVax Project” will show proof of concept for a large-scale vaccine production facility using Nicotiana (tobacco) plants grown hydroponically in a contained environment.

The iBioLaunch platform uses transient gene expression in green plants for superior efficiency in protein production. In contrast to current methods of production, the iBio green plant technology platform holds the promise of shortening vaccine production from months to weeks and allowing rapid response to newly emerging viruses not possible with conventional vaccine technology.

The method of production is to construct a “launch vector” of a cDNA sequence that encodes the target protein cloned into a plant viral gene expression vector. The launch vectors are introduced into agrobacteria where they greatly multiply. The agrobacteria, carrying their payload of launch vectors, are introduced into all aerial parts of green plants in a growing facility by vacuum infiltration. This process provides for near complete leaf coverage, increasing the efficiency and speed of protein production. Once the plants have been infiltrated with agrobacteria, the viral sequences of the launch vectors along with the cloned target sequences are massively amplified through virus replication.

Translation of these recombinant viral vector mRNAs in leaf and stem tissue produces hundred milligram quantities of target protein per kilogram of fresh plant tissue in less than a week. The production method is termed 'transient expression' because the target gene sequence is not incorporated into the plant chromosome and thus does not result in the creation of transgenic plants.

Although the Project’s initial goal is to produce candidate H1N1 vaccines, iBio’s technology is highly adaptable to other influenza strains, other infectious diseases, as well as cancer.

The iBioLaunch platform, the enabling technology for the GreenVax Project, was developed by the Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology. The technology has been successfully applied to a wide range of vaccine and therapeutic targets, and in addition to the investments made by iBio, has attracted funding from the US government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The iBioLaunch technology with its rapid response capability provides a valuable alternative to traditional vaccine production systems,” said Dr. Vidadi Yusibov, Executive Director of the Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology. “The GreenVax Project is a significant step towards practical implementation of the iBioLaunch technology.”

“This is a landmark new technology that could dramatically increase the nation’s capability to produce vaccines for infectious diseases, including influenza,” said Dr. Brett Giroir, vice chancellor for research of the Texas A&M University System. Texas A&M is a member of the GreenVax consortium.

“The flexibility of the plant-based system, combined with its low cost and ability to massively scale, may provide vaccine protection not only to citizens of the United States, but also to many parts of the world that cannot currently afford vaccines,” said Dr. Barry Holtz, President of G-Con.

“We expect vaccines against influenza, including seasonal influenza, to be among the earliest applications of the iBioLaunch technology,” said Robert Kay, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of iBio. “In the new GreenVax facility, G-Con’s modular production technology should significantly enhance the economy, speed and flexibility advantages of our system for application to a broad range of biologic products.”

Research and development for the GreenVax Project will occur on a secure, 21-acre site on the campus of the Texas A&M Health Science Center in Bryan, Texas. There will be a custom-designed, 145,000-square-foot bio-production facility that is being constructed by G-Con. The facility has been optimized to achieve the goals of this project, yet remains expandable as required without interruption of core operations. The projected final scale capacity of the facility is 100 million doses per month. Although there are currently no approved plant-based flu vaccines, a clinical development program for influenza vaccines produced with the iBioLaunch platform is underway.

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