MEMBER NEWS: Ghent University and CEPI are working together on innovative ‘spin freezing’ technology for mRNA vaccines

Scientists at Ghent University will receive up to $1.9 million in funding from CEPI for a project to improve the storage of future mRNA vaccines.

The innovative technique of ‘spin-freezing’ could make the frozen storage of mRNA vaccines unnecessary and better support the rapid scale-up of vaccines in future disease outbreaks through continuous vaccine production.

Collaboration between CEPI and Ghent University

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched in 2017 as an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic and civil organizations. Its mission is to accelerate the development of vaccines and other biological measures against epidemic and pandemic disease risks and enable equal access to them worldwide.

Ghent University will receive up to $1.9 million from CEPI to test the performance of mRNA vaccines after spin-freezing the vaccines. “This new vaccine stabilization technique could potentially put an end to the need to freeze mRNA vaccines and help to respond more quickly and on a large scale to future outbreaks,” says Dr. Ine Lentacker, initiator of the project. To investigate this potential, extensive formulation development is now underway in which researchers will investigate which mRNA vaccine compositions and excipients are necessary to successfully stabilize the vaccines. In close collaboration with Prof. Hristo Svilenov, advanced analytical methods will be used to evaluate the impact of the spin-freezing process on the mRNA vaccines. The mRNA vaccine platform, mRNA Galsomes, previously developed at Ghent University will be used within this project as a model mRNA vaccine as it is currently also being further developed as a vaccine against various infectious diseases.

The innovative technique of spin freezing

The spin-freezing technique was developed by Prof. Thomas De Beer as an alternative to the traditional freeze-drying method, and formed the basis for the Ghent University spinoff RheaVita. With freeze-drying, vaccines are dehydrated and temporarily stored as a powder, after which they can be stored at room temperature (instead of in freezers). This is done to prevent spoilage, extend shelf life and increase access to these products in remote areas or in areas where electrical cooling sources are scarce.

Spin freezing works by spinning vials of vaccine rapidly along an axis while a stream of cold gas solidifies the vaccine into a thin powder film on the wall of the vial. This ensures a much faster drying process and offers manufacturers more control over the process, which can improve the quality of the vaccines produced.

New preferred method for vaccine manufacturers

The new technique of spin freezing can offer additional advantages over the traditional freeze-drying method and therefore has the potential to become a technique of choice for vaccine manufacturers.

This allows vaccine manufacturers to continuously freeze vaccines, vial by vial, avoiding expensive and time-consuming bottlenecks and delays that often occur with traditional freeze-drying, where vaccines are produced in batches. While batch production has long been the standard method in the industry, continuous production could offer improved efficiency. That could not only help get vaccines to market faster, but also reduce labor costs and waste.

Next steps in the process with the partners involved

Ghent University will be supported by its partners Rheavita for spin-freeze equipment, Quantoom Biosciences for the production of mRNA and the Flemish Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) for testing the freeze-dried vaccines in preclinical studies. If the project is successful, CEPI can further invest in human clinical trials.

100 Day Mission

At the beginning of 2023, CEPI declared the ‘100 Day Mission’, which was embraced by the G7 and G20. This international ambition aims to accelerate the development and availability of vaccines to approximately 100 days after identification of a future virus in order to stop an outbreak before it becomes a pandemic. This project aims to contribute to achieving that mission. Both CEPI and Ghent University therefore expressly commit to providing equal access to all vaccines developed through this partnership.

The research therefore fits within the innovation policy of Ghent University, which aims to focus, among other things, on making advanced medicines more accessible to patients   through its industrial innovation platforms GATE (focus on advanced therapies) and CESPE (focus on sustainable pharmaceutical production technology).