Volunteers sought for trial of new plant-based COVID-19 vaccine

Coronavirus

SAN DIEGO – Millions of Americans already have received their COVID-19 vaccinations between doses supplied by Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

But biopharmaceutical company Medicago is making a late push to provide a plant-based option.

“In this particular vaccine, they do not use any virus — live or inactivated or destroyed or killed or anything like that,” said Dr. Denis Tarakjian with Wake Research San Diego. “They’re just using the viral sequence of the proteins that are on the outside capsule of the coronavirus.”

The whole process is done in just a matter of weeks, maybe the fastest and most organic option yet. As the plants grow, the virus-like particles are injected into the plants.

“It goes into the plasma membrane of the cells of the plant,” Tarakjian said. “The plant actually incorporates it into its plasma membrane. It grows over the next five or six days or some period of time. Then they harvest that and make a vaccine from that.”

He goes on: “There’s no animals involved, no chicken embryos or eggs. The plants basically become unto themselves little factories.”

Now volunteers in San Diego are wanted to participate in the Phase 3 trial for the new vaccine. Medicago is producing the vaccine and using local researchers like Wake Research to find participants in diverse cities.

In San Diego, they hope to administer the two-dose test to 300 people, taking participants immediately.

Although there’s already viable options on the market, Tarakjian says it’s important to pursue new opportunities.

“As you give more and more of these vaccines out to more and more people, you are going to start seeing side effects,” he said, “and maybe there’s another vaccine that’s more efficacious, less side effects. But unless you keep looking, you won’t know.”

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