Nature’s Toolbox is taking a monumental step to help the world shift its battle against COVID-19 toward an endemic stage, by helping other countries develop their own mRNA vaccines.
NTx, a bioinformatics and biomanufacturing company in Rio Rancho, is developing technological materials to build containers — roughly the size of an HP printer — low- and middle-income countries would use to produce vaccines.
“What I would consider a perfect world, every country is capable of producing their own needs and producing their own vaccines,” NTx co-founder Alex Koglin said.
Koglin said the technology involves a compact system where vaccines can be developed with the use of necessary enzyme compounds. For each container, he said there’s one compartment for compound ingredients, one compartment with enzymes where the reaction happens and a continuous exchange between them.
He said that process reduces the size of the compound and helps make the whole reaction more efficient.
Koglin also said devices would be single-use, meaning they can be delivered sterile, operated anywhere and disposed of after use.
“That makes the whole process significantly safer, better-controlled and so on,” he said.
Michael Humbert, the second co-founder of NTx, said sending the materials to struggling countries will lower costs and increase vaccine accessibility for those who may not have good health care.
“With all the trouble going on the world, and all the mutations you constantly have circulating, if you get those countries also to a high vaccination rate, this is how you can stop a pandemic and turn it into an endemic,” he said. “Most poor countries cannot really afford finding the huge amount of vaccines they would need. You won’t get rid of the pandemic if you don’t help the poor countries to afford the vaccinations.”
Koglin said that amid the rush to develop and start distributing COVID-19 vaccines following 2020, that process “showed very clearly” that capacity for broader distribution wasn’t there. He said the intel he gathered showed the manufacturing and scalability of vaccines needed to improve.
“What we face is an underlying issue, that manufacturing is stuck somewhat in methods that really make it incredibly hard to scale easily,” he said.
Koglin said the technology would be brought down to a distributable level that can also be handled safely. He said developers have to get away from the idea of using large stainless steel tanks and large facilities to produce such biological material.
Humbert said NTx is already shipping products to collaborators, but the system to help establish such set-ups is still being developed.
“We’re still working on making those bioreactors and integrating them into the whole work flow… We’re working on various research projects with important pharmaceutical companies,” he said, adding test manufacturing for those bioreactors will start in March.
Koglin said test manufacturing is done to show the material is scalable, the quality is consistent and confined, and it can be developed in larger amounts.
Depending on how things go with manufacturers and regulators, Koglin said NTx would be happy if the products are fit for clinical development by the end of 2022. In other words, he hopes U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulators deem the materials functional and safe — and that the process is feasible — by then.