A piece of Fonterra bioprocessing equipment the size of a large microwave could help a New Zealand company produce a Covid 19 vaccine.
Fonterra’s cutting edge research centre in Palmerston North has lent biotech company CVC an homogeniser, used to break up particles, to assist vaccine researchers trying to access specialised equipment as they work towards first clinical trials.
The trials, estimated to conclude in early 2022, will cost around $8 million but a vaccine will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to bring to market, a CVC spokesperson said.
CVC has raised $1m in private funding, and received $488,000 interim funding from MBIE’s Covid 19 innovation acceleration fund.
A new homogeniser costs around $50,000, but the one loaned to CVC is used. Fonterra is not charging for the use of the equipment.
“We have loaned it to them on a try before you buy arrangement, if it’s doing what they need it to do, then we will look to sell it to them,” the company said.
CVC chief executive Dr Robert Feldman said specialised equipment can be challenging to access so the company was pleased to be able to find a sophisticated Fonterra resource.
CVC is using well-established technology first developed at Massey University.
It enables the efficient production of tiny biobeads that are coated in any protein or polypeptide chosen. CVC is coating these biobeads in carefully selected components from the SARS-Cov-2 virus. The biobeads and coating are simultaneously manufactured inside bacteria which is an efficient method of production.
CVC said Fonterra’s homogeniser was being used to break open the bacteria in which CVC’s vaccine biobeads are made.
“Once the biobeads are released, we remove contaminating bacterial residues and end up with a pure vaccine preparation ready for injection,” said chief operating officer Dr Andy Herbert.
The companies found each other because the research community in New Zealand is small and people know each other, they said.
Fonterra director of category, strategy and innovation Mark Piper said being able to help CVC could be good for New Zealand and the rest of the world.
Fonterra’s Palmerston North centre still has a piece of equipment similar to the homogeniser, and a few others of differing capability and size used in application and pilot scale operations.
The co-operation follows the Government’s announcement of hundreds of millions of dollars support for onshore and offshore efforts to produce and obtain a Covid-19 vaccine for New Zealand and its Pacific partners.
CVC which has staff in Auckland and Nelson, is in partnership with Auckland University, Callaghan Innovation and Ardigen.
The company is chaired by Jeff Douglas, managing director of Douglas Pharmaceuticals.