University of Central Florida Professor Henry Daniell has been developing a new method of creating vaccines using genetically engineered plants. He has been developing a new method of creating vaccines using genetically engineered tobacco and lettuce plants to fight diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue or biothreat agents such as anthrax or plague.
Currently, vaccines are made through a fermentation process that requires expensive equipment. Vaccines are made using killed, inactivated or avirulent forms of bacteria or viruses. These vaccines also require refrigeration and don’t have a very long shelf life, forcing continual production. Injections require sterile needles and health professionals for their delivery.
Vaccines produced by Daniell’s technique are delivered in capsule form and are less expensive because fermentation and refrigeration are not required. This also increases the vaccine’s shelf life.
“This means they would be accessible to all people and all countries, even the poorest and most remote,” Daniell said. “That’s why I am so grateful for the opportunity to pursue this work.”
The Gates Foundation awarded Daniell a two-year, $761,302 grant to develop a polio vaccine. Konstantin Chumakov, associate director, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration, is a collaborator in the grant and will facilitate advancement of this novel technology.
Should Daniell’s vaccine receive FDA approval, it would open the door for the production of a variety of cheaper, more effective vaccines around the world.
Using plants to produce vaccine capsules has an additional benefit.
Once ingested, the pills activate the immune system housed in the gut, which is more powerful than the blood’s immune system – the traditional target of injectable vaccines for the past century.
Most importantly, Daniell’s technique does not use killed, inactivated or avirulent forms of bacteria or viruses but instead uses only proteins that could not cause any disease but are effective in stimulating protective immunity.
“This makes these vaccines much more potent, effective and safer,” Daniell said.