Chancellor Sharp praises partnership between university, biotech firm
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A team of scientists at Texas A&M is working on two COVID-19 vaccine candidates that could be mass produced quickly in modified tobacco plants.
The team is led by Dr. James Samuel, a regents’ professor and the head of the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology at the Texas A&M University College of Medicine.
He discusses the experiments with John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System for part of the 12th and final episode of the series, “COVID-19: The Texas A&M University System Responds.
“This is an important collaboration,” Chancellor Sharp said. “It’s an example of how our scientists, engineers and other experts collaborate with the private sector on the world’s most pressing problems.”
The discussion will air 7 p.m. Thursday on KAMU-TV in College Station and on other Texas public television affiliates. (Check local listings in Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Waco and Amarillo.) It also is on the System’s YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/mIHRAKOy6bg.
Dr. Samuel is leading the group at his lab at the Texas A&M Health Science Center. The team is testing the vaccine candidates for the international biotechnology company, iBio Inc., which operates a manufacturing facility in nearby Bryan, Texas. The scientists expect to see preliminary results before Oct. 1 from pre-clinical trials in mice.
iBio produces its two COVID-19 vaccine candidates in modified tobacco leaves using a plant-based growing system it calls “FastPharming.” The company says its system can produce vaccine doses at mass commercial scale more quickly than other methods.
Dr. Samuels said it is important for scientists across the globe to develop scores of different COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
The SARS-Cov2 virus is unusually tough on the immune systems of elderly people and people with chronic health problems such as diabetes, hypertension and lung disease.
Dr. Samuels predicted that early vaccines will be useful for otherwise healthy people, but it probably will be more difficult to find vaccines that help more vulnerable patients.
“The challenge is a lot more complicated than a single vaccine,” he said. “The scale of the problem alone is unprecedented. This will not be a horse race with a single winner.”
The Texas A&M University System has worked with iBio Inc. on biotech manufacturing since 2016 through its Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing, (CIADM), which is part of the Public Health Preparedness and Response Initiative at the Health Science Center.
iBio Inc. is based in New York City. It has a 130,000 square-foot production facility near the Texas A&M campus. The building was constructed in 2010 with funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
It was part of the “Blue Angel” initiative to help with rapid response to future outbreaks following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, which infected 61 million people and caused an estimated 12,469 deaths in the United States.
About The Texas A&M University System
The Texas A&M University System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation with a budget of $6.3 billion. The System is a statewide network of 11 universities; a comprehensive health science center; eight state agencies, including the Texas Division of Emergency Management; and the RELLIS Campus. The Texas A&M System educates more than 151,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. System-wide, research and development expenditures exceeded $1 billion in FY 2019 and helped drive the state’s economy.
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