3M: Harvesting proteins to find a vaccine for COVID-19


As scientists rush to develop COVID-19 vaccines, safety is a top concern for people around the world. Researchers are quick to point out they are not skipping any steps to ensure the safety and effectiveness of new vaccines. Several factors contribute to the speed of development: the sheer volume of dedicated resources, the ability to combine steps and newer ways of developing vaccines and therapeutics. 3M is helping in the fight against the pandemic from multiple angles, including working alongside biopharmaceutical companies as they develop and manufacture protein-based vaccines and therapeutics. Indeed, the most promising therapeutics right now are protein-based drugs, where the drug is a protein. Pharmaceutical companies make protein drugs by genetically engineering a cell – usually a mammalian cell – to make the protein. The engineered cells are grown in a culture for 48 or 72 hours. After that time, they will have a fluid that contains the protein drug the cells have made, but it also contains the cells, debris from broken cells, and all sorts of other proteins that have been produced by the cells. Once they harvest the fluid, they have to isolate the drug protein from cell fragments, from other proteins the cells have made, and also from DNA and other contaminants. It’s typically a 15- to 20-step process to isolate the drug protein in a pure form.

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