Dead vaccines are mostly made with toxic chemicals

Dead vaccines are mostly made with toxic chemicals

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Fight against infectious diseases: vaccines are now to be manufactured without chemicals

Toxic chemicals are often used in the production of vital vaccines. However, German researchers have now developed a new type of technology that uses electron beams instead. This method makes it possible for the first time to produce dead vaccines without chemicals, quickly and reproducibly.

Protection against infectious diseases

Vaccinations are an extremely effective remedy for various infectious diseases. But it's still a difficult undertaking to make vaccines. Because with dead vaccines, the pathogens must be killed without changing their structure. So far, this has mostly been done with toxic chemicals. A new type of technology developed by researchers from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft uses electron beams instead - and for the first time enables dead vaccines to be made quickly, without chemicals, and reproducibly.

Vaccines trigger an immune response in the body

Which vaccinations are advisable is determined in Germany by the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Vaccinations against polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus have been part of the standard program at the pediatrician for decades.

As the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft explains in a communication, many vaccines are dead vaccines - the pathogens in them have therefore been killed and can therefore no longer harm the patient's body.

Nevertheless, they trigger an immune response: the body recognizes them as foreign and starts the immune reaction by developing appropriate antibodies and protecting themselves from the disease.

Remains of the toxic chemicals remain in the vaccine

To produce the vaccines, the pathogens are bred in large numbers and then killed by chemicals. The poisonous formaldehyde is mostly used here - heavily diluted so that it does not harm people later when vaccinated.

However, the low concentration also has disadvantages: The poison usually has to act on the pathogens for several days to weeks, which has an unfavorable effect on the structure of the pathogens and on the reproducibility of vaccine production.

If things have to go quickly, such as with influenza vaccination, higher doses of formaldehyde are used. Here, however, complex filtration must follow. Nevertheless, residues of the toxic chemicals remain in the vaccine.

Electron beams kill pathogens

According to the Fraunhofer Institute, pharmaceutical companies will be able to manufacture dead vaccines that do not contain any chemical residues - and that quickly and reproducibly.

Scientists see particular potential in the production of vaccines that could not previously be produced by chemical inactivation.

Experts from the Fraunhofer Institutes for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI, for Production Technology and Automation IPA, for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP as well as for Interface and Bio Process Engineering IGB have developed the corresponding procedure.

"Instead of using chemicals to inactivate the pathogens, we use low-energy electron beams," explains Martin Thoma, group leader at Fraunhofer IPA.

The accelerated electrons either break up the DNA of the exciter through direct collisions or generate secondary electrons, which in turn lead to double or single-strand breaks.

The DNA of the pathogens is literally shredded by the electrons, while the external structure of the pathogens remains intact. This in turn is important in order to trigger effective immune protection.

Techniques have been newly developed

The challenge here: the electrons do not penetrate too deep into the suspension with the pathogens - the liquid level should not be higher than 200 micrometers for a homogeneous dose distribution.

The corresponding techniques have not yet existed, they were newly developed at Fraunhofer IPA.

The first method: A roll is continuously wetted with the pathogen suspension, irradiated and the then inactivated liquid is transferred to a sterile container. So there are two liquid reservoirs: one with active and one with inactive pathogens - connected via the rotating roller.

"This is a continuous process that can be excellently scaled up for the production of vaccines," explains Thoma.

The second approach is particularly suitable for smaller volumes, such as those used in research and vaccine development. The solution containing the pathogens is located in pouches that are guided through the electron beam using a patented process.

Cooperation was the basis of the project

Such a project requires different expertise, which the four participating institutes optimally cover. The researchers at Fraunhofer IZI were responsible, among other things, for the cultivation of the various pathogens - for example one for bird and horse flu.

"In addition, after the radiation treatment, we examined together with the colleagues from the Fraunhofer IGB whether these had been completely inactivated and thus offer effective vaccination protection," says Dr. Sebastian Ulbert, department head at Fraunhofer IZI and initiator of the project.

The Fraunhofer FEP scientists brought in the know-how regarding electron radiation.

They developed a system that precisely dosed the low-energy electrons - after all, the genetic material of the pathogen should be reliably destroyed, but its structure must be preserved so that the human immune system can form the appropriate antibodies.

The process already works, and not just on a laboratory scale:

“In autumn 2018, we started up a research and test facility at Fraunhofer IZI. With the continuous module - i.e. the roll wetted with liquid - we can currently produce four liters of vaccine per hour, ”says Ulbert.

This is very close to industrial standards: For example, some vaccines can be used to produce a million vaccine doses from 15 liters of exciter suspension. Talks with industrial partners are already underway.

However, it will take at least another two to four years before the first vaccines produced with electron beams enter the clinical trial. (ad)

Author and source information

Video: Sanofi Making vaccines (January 2023).