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BBSRC-funded technology enables rapid swine flu vaccine discovery

12 August 2009

A new technology developed with Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funding at the John Innes Centre has been taken up under licence by Canadian company Medicago to produce a candidate swine flu vaccine in only 14 days.

Professor George Lomonossoff from the John Innes Centre, who led the original research project, said: “It is extremely pleasing to see that our system has proved so useful for the rapid production of such an important vaccine candidate in a case where time is of the essence.”

The CPMV-HT (Cowpea Mosaic Virus-HyperTranslatable) expression system was developed by Professor Lomonossoff and Dr Frank Sainsbury at the John Innes Centre. This technology allows very rapid production of proteins in plants (Nicotiana benthamiana is used) and within a few days can make enough protein to uncover candidate vaccines. CPMV-HT is licensed by PBL (Plant Bioscience Limited).

The first experiments were done by Professor Lomonossoff’s team in September 2007, and then a patent on the technology filed in January 2008.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Douglas Kell said: “The timescale of translation of fundamental research into a real life application in this case is really remarkable, standing at less than two years. To have this application so quickly and to put it to use for the benefit of worldwide health is a very satisfying outcome. This demonstrates the value of investing in basic research in the early days so that we can have useful technologies later sometimes sooner rather than later!”



The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

About JIC

The John Innes Centre,, is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial sciences with over 800 staff. JIC is based on Norwich Research Park and carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is an Institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

About PBL

Plant Bioscience Limited ( is a technology development and intellectual property management company specialising in plant and microbial science. Established in 1994, the Company is jointly and equally owned by the Sainsbury Laboratory the John Innes Centre and the BBSRC. PBL actively identifies, protects, markets and commercialises intellectual property and materials generated from public-funded research in the plant and microbial sciences.

About Medicago

Medicago is committed to provide highly effective and affordable vaccines based on proprietary Virus-Like Particle (VLP) and manufacturing technologies. Medicago is currently developing a VLP vaccine to protect against H5N1 pandemic influenza, using a transient expression system which produces recombinant vaccine antigens in plants. This technology has potential to offer advantages of speed and cost over competitive technologies. It could deliver a vaccine for testing in about a month after the identification and reception of genetic sequences from a pandemic strain. This production time frame has the potential to allow vaccination of the population before the first wave of a pandemic strikes and to supply large volumes of vaccine antigens to the world market. Additional information about Medicago is available at


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

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