Biotechnology company Medicago (TSX:MDG) could soon demonstrate whether its technology can rapidly develop and manufacture vaccines to respond to potential pandemic and bioterror threats.

Medicago, which is part of a national project to develop vaccine capabilities to respond to virus threats, has launched operations in its Research Triangle Park facility. The company expects to have the new 90,000-square-foot vaccine facility fully occupied by the end of October.

The new North Carolina operations for Quebec City, Canada-based Medicago come about a year after the company secured a grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, which pledged up to $21 million to the company to demonstrate scalable manufacturing of its vaccines using its proprietary technology. Medicago’s new vaccine facility is part of DARPA’s “Blue Angel” project, which aims to develop new ways to rapidly produce large amounts of vaccine in response to infectious disease and bioterror threats.

Medicago’s technology uses tobacco plants to make virus-like particles. The company says its technology offers speed and cost advantages compared to other vaccine technologies, making it well-suited to respond to pandemics. Earlier this year, Medicago reported positive phase 2 clinical trial results testing a new H1N1 avian flu vaccine candidate. The company also plans to conduct clinical studies on a seasonal flu vaccine candidate.

If the vaccine candidates prove to be safe and effective, they could eventually be manufactured in Medicago’s new RTP facility. The company is starting out with plans to demonstrate the facility’s capacity to produce 10 million doses of influenza vaccine a month with the capacity to expand in the future. The DAPRA project aims to find production facilities and methods that can produce large amounts of high quality vaccine grade protein in a relatively short time frame – less than three months. That rapid response is necessary to counter pandemics and biological threats.

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