Applying COVID-19 vaccine supply chain lessons to advanced therapies in a post-pandemic world

By Katie Amdahl, Grainger Institute for Engineering

Surges in the research, development, and supply chain capabilities for new vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic may be key to accelerating clinical translation and patient access to a whole new class of advanced therapies. As we inch toward a post-pandemic world, biologics researchers and manufacturers hope to leverage the vaccine infrastructure established thus far and expand it through interdisciplinary collaboration to bring novel therapeutics — cell therapies, gene therapies, and regenerative treatments — safely and cost-effectively to the people who need them.

According to biomedical engineering associate professor Krishanu “Kris” Saha, platform technologies — namely newly engineered mRNA, viral vectors, and proteins — are fundamental components to vaccine and therapeutic development alike. These technologies can be biologically edited to address different strands of information, making them programmable for vaccine development and for personalized cell and gene therapies used to treat a wide range of disorders: from sickle cell disease to cystic fibrosis.

“In one sense, the vaccines are simply different codes of what engineers want to program in to build novel antigens, including bits of emerging variants, within the body. Then, the immune system takes it from there and produces immunity for the individual,” Saha says. “In many ways, gene/cell therapy is similar, coding for therapeutic proteins within the formulation rather than viral antigens.”

Because of this interchangeability, merging the cell and gene therapy world with the vaccine development world could dramatically increase the reach of various cell and gene therapies, including CRISPR, while augmenting our preparedness for future public health crises. And, given the wide array of lessons learned in the wake of the pandemic — from research and development to supply chain solutions — there is a wealth of information available to utilize. The major problem with this: the vaccine and cell and gene therapy worlds are still relatively siloed. According to Saha, the development of public-private partnerships, maturation of cyberinfrastructure, and the expansion of workforce training paired with even more biomanufacturing flexibility could help bridge this disconnect, particularly if driven through cross-disciplinary efforts. Read more …