Home » Vaccines » “The coronavirus is the wake-up call to adopt new technology”

Sean Hart

CEO and Chief Scientific Officer, LumaCyte

Renée Hart

President and Chief Business Officer, LumaCyte

A new method for rapidly measuring viral infectivity can help speed up the development of vaccines and antiviral therapies and improve diagnostics —which are vitally important in a pandemic.

In normal times, the general public doesn’t give much thought to the speed of vaccine production. But, these are not normal times; the rapid spread of the coronavirus has seen to that. Suddenly, the public is very interested in how threats from emerging diseases might be countered, and asking why it can take such a long time to get a vaccine to market.

The answer to that question, says Dr. Sean Hart, CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of research and bioanalytics instrumentation company LumaCyte, is that the current methods of measuring viral infectivity — which are crucial to the vaccine development process and clinical diagnostics — are generally slow, labour intensive, subjective, and difficult to standardise. “Traditional assays are based upon antiquated technologies,” he says. “Take plaque assays, where cells grow on a monolayer in a petri dish, which is a time-consuming process that can take between 10 and 15 days. These types of assays are known as ‘gold standards’ but, actually, they’re old, rusty and need to be replaced.”

Quicker technology can speed up vaccine development

Now, however, a new technology is able to more rapidly and accurately measure viral infectivity. This technology, Laser Force Cytology (LFC), can be used throughout the vaccine development and manufacturing process which can help to speed up response during a pandemic. “LFC is a cell-based assay that rapidly measures viral infectivity based upon the cells biophysical and biochemical response to the virus ,” says Dr. Hart. “It’s not the answer to every aspect of getting a vaccine to market; but it can dramatically compress the timeline and expedite the development of a vaccine, from R&D and process optimisation, to process monitoring, through formulations, release assays, to fill and finish.”

We have to take pandemics seriously and we need to be doing things to be ready for them.

An effective diagnostic tool to screen patients

Another big benefit of faster and more accurate analytical technology is that it can provide significant efficiencies for biopharma companies by catching mistakes in the biomanufacturing process early. “A rapid process analytical tool can save millions of dollars in lost materials, resources and time,” says Renée Hart, President and Chief Business Officer of LumaCyte. “With near real-time analytics, processes can be optimized sooner and corrective action taken ensuring consistent vaccine quality. And this is incredibly important, particularly if a vaccine needs to be produced quickly.”

Plus, in the area of clinical diagnostics, the new technology has the potential to rapidly screen patients for actively infectious virus. By taking nasal or oral swabs, sputum, or lung aspirates, it is expected that a cell based measure of the infectious status of the patient could be made within minutes, thus transforming a clinician’s ability to determine the course of treatment — or the need to quarantine. “The idea of quarantine creates a pandemic mindset in people,” says Ms. Hart. “Quarantine is an incredibly disruptive and expensive proposition and if we know whether a person is infectious it would allow for a more targeted response. From a diagnostic standpoint, a cell based viral infectivity measurement could really help society get back to normal.”

No time to stick with the status quo

If there’s any positive that can come from the coronavirus, it’s the hope that it will serve as a warning to the medical community that there needs to be a change in the way that viral infectivity is measured and monitored.

“The coronavirus is a wake-up call,” says Dr. Hart. “Now, at present, while this pandemic is terrible and has brought countries to a standstill, the mortality rate from the virus and complications currently appears to be relatively low, even if higher than seasonal influenza. But, one can envision a much worse scenario: a virus with a high mortality rate such as Ebola, but with the infectivity of the coronavirus or worse yet, smallpox. So, we have to take pandemics seriously and we need to be doing things to be ready for them. The question is: in a time of crisis, are companies going to gravitate to new tools and methods, or stick with what they know? It will be curious to find out how they respond — but I hope we don’t remain complacent.”

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