Infectious diseases never stop evolving. With strong scientific stewardship, however, we can evolve our vaccines and treatments even faster. That’s an important development happening right now in Canada.

Medicago is a Canadian-based biopharmaceutical company developing novel vaccines and therapies to address a broad range of infectious diseases, including influenza which causes up to 3500 deaths in Canada annually according to Public Health Agency of Canada. Most of traditional flu vaccines, both seasonal and pandemic, are cultivated in chicken eggs with cycle of production of approximately 6 months. The egg based process can induce mutations that may reduce vaccine effectiveness as the vaccine antigen content may not exactly match the circulating strains. But Medicago’s new plant-based technology is increasing the accuracy of matching the circulating strain by eliminating the risk of mutation and contamination during production, and significantly shortening production timelines. “We have a unique manufacturing technology and innovative products as well,” says Medicago’s Executive Vice President of Scientific and Medical Affairs, Nathalie Landry. “This is totally new. It’s a technology that is very rapid — we can produce vaccines just 19 days after a viral threat has been identified compared to months with current production methods.”

This dramatic improvement in production time could supply large volumes of vaccines before a pandemic is declared or if unexpected seasonal flu strain takes hold. “We can initiate and deliver production of a new vaccine that corresponds to that strain very quickly,” says Landry. “And it’s not only applicable to viral diseases like influenza. We are looking at using this technology to produce vaccines against bacterial infections and even cancer.”

Innovative science, tangible results

This science can provide a real benefit in the lives of Canadians, while directly addressing the concerns of those who feel that the current flu shot is not as effective as it could be. “The flu vaccine is our best line of defense right now, but there is a lot of room for improvement,” she says. “We have completed 13 clinical trials with influenza vaccines, both pandemic and seasonal. We are in phase three studies and are about to submit our dossier to Health Canada for approval.”

Improved vaccine technology would be welcome no matter where in the world it was developed, but there’s something especially hopeful about seeing this sort of innovation and disruption happen here at home.

“You won’t find a plant-based technology as advanced anywhere else in the world,” says Landry. “It’s important to have success stories like this so that people know we can use scientists educated in Canada to develop innovative products in Canada.”