Numerous laboratories around the world are currently searching for an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus. The German company CureVac is pursuing a particularly promising approach with its proprietary mRNA technology. If a breakthrough is made in this field, it is essential that scalable methods are available for the rapid mass production of the vaccines. To this end, a group of researchers at the Fraunhofer IPK is developing and testing different methods.
CureVac's approach to vaccine production is based on the production of specific mRNA molecules. Once injected, they are intended to stimulate the vaccinated person's body to produce the required antibodies. In order for the mRNA molecules to reach the right place within the body, they must be encapsulated in a protective lipid layer. However, currently available technologies for generating such lipid nanoparticles and encapsulating the molecules are not yet very effective. The SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates currently in development can therefore only be replicated and tested on a small scale. At today's status quo, these difficulties will affect the production of the vaccine once development is complete.
The HeLiMol project (Herstellung von Lipidnanoformulierungen für die Verkapselung von mRNA-Molekülen = production of lipid nanoformulations for the encapsulation of mRNA molecules) is funded by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft within the framework of its »Fraunhofer vs. Corona« campaign. The researchers are following two promising approaches with different methods of mixing the mRNA molecules and the lipid phase for rapid and uniform encapsulation. Their first step is the bundling the research and development capacities available in the project in order to develop and provide a functional solution and thus enable the start of vaccine production.