|23 September 2016|

USA

Lifesaving medicines available to millions in the first world are still out of reach to many in the poorest and most remote areas but a new development by US-based researchers could help overcome this logistical challenge.

A team from the world-renowned Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering has discovered a way of overcoming the difficulty in transporting vaccines and other biomolecules used in diagnostics and therapy, which conventionally require a ‘cold chain’ of refrigeration from the time of synthesis to the time of administration.

The team from the Wyss Institute has been working on a molecular manufacturing method that can produce a broad range of biomolecules, including vaccines, antimicrobial peptides and antibody conjugates, anywhere in the world, without power or refrigeration.

“The ability to synthesise and administer biomolecular compounds, anywhere, could undoubtedly shift the reach of medicine and science across the world,” said Wyss Core Faculty member James Collins, Ph.D., senior author on the study, who is also Professor of Medical Engineering & Science and Professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Department of Biological Engineering. “Our goal is make biomolecular manufacturing accessible wherever it could improve lives.”

In a new paper published this week in Cell journal, the team unveiled a just add water portable method that affordably, rapidly, and precisely generates compounds that could be administered as therapies or used in experiments and diagnostics.

“This approach could — with very little training — put therapeutics and diagnostic tools in the hands of clinicians working in remote areas without power,” said Keith Pardee, Ph.D., a co-first author on the study who was a Wyss Research Scientist and is now an Assistant Professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. “Currently, distribution of life-saving doses of protein-based preventative and interventional medicines are often restricted by access to an uninterrupted chain of cold refrigeration, which many areas of the world lack.”

The cost of the approach, at roughly three cents per microliter, could also give access to biomolecular manufacturing to researchers and educators who lack access to wet labs and other sophisticated equipment, impacting basic science beyond the immediately apparent promise in clinical applications.

“Synthetic biology has been harnessed to increase efficiency of manufacturing of biological products for medical and energy applications in the past, however, this new breakthrough utterly changes the application landscape,” said Wyss Core Faculty member Donald Ingber, who is also the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as Professor of Bioengineering at Harvard’s SEAS. “It’s really exciting because this new biomolecular manufacturing technology potentially offers a way to solve the cold chain problem that still restricts delivery of vaccines and other important medical treatments to patients in the most far-flung corners of the world who need them the most.”