Vaccine developer Medicago (TSX:MDG) has secured a $3.5 million milestone payment from the federal government for progress on a vaccine manufacturing site intended to respond to pandemic threats.

The milestone is the fourth Medicago has received from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Quebec, Canada-based Medicago has received $19.8 million in milestones to date out of a potential $21 million for the project. The company opened the 97,000 square-foot Research Triangle Park, North Carolina vaccine facility last fall.

Medicago has developed proprietary technology that makes virus-like particles, or VLPs, from tobacco leaves. VLPs mimic the structure of a virus and prompt an immune response from the body. But because the particles are not the actual virus, they cannot infect people and they are unable to replicate.

Medicago’s RTP facility is seen as playing a role in quick responses to viral threats. The company’s technology can develop a vaccine from tobacco leaves in about 30 days, considerably faster than the traditional method of incubating virus in chicken eggs, a roughly six month process. DARPA was seeking scalable manufacturing capabilities for vaccines to respond to virus outbreaks, both natural and terrorism-related. DARPA’s Blue Angel project has been seeking new ways to produce large amounts of influenza vaccine in under three months.

Medicago has two more milestones remaining, which the company expects to complete in the first half of this year. The company plans to demonstrate in the future the RTP facility’s capacity to produce 10 million doses of influenza vaccine per month.

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