This rare plant found only in Chile can produce 4.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Pharmaceutical company Novavax plans to produce a new vaccine against COVID-19 from the extract of the Quillay tree in Chile in billions of doses over the next two years.

This rare plant found only in Chile can produce 4.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine
This rare plant found only in Chile can produce 4.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine

On a farm in Chile's "Country of Wine," forestry experts are nursing a young tree plantation whose bark promises a powerful vaccine.

The Quillay tree, technically called Quillaja saponaria, is a rare plant native to Chile that has long been used by the indigenous Mapuche people to make soap and medicine. Currently, Chila is the only country that harvests mature Quillas from the forest in large quantities.

In recent years, the plant has also been used to produce the very successful shingles vaccine and the world's first malaria vaccine, as well as a foaming agent for industrial products. food, beverage and mining industries.

Now, two molecules of saponins, made from the bark of twigs cut from older trees in the forests of Chile, are being used to make a COVID-19 vaccine, under development. by pharmaceutical company Novavax Inc. The chemicals are used to make an adjuvant, a substance that helps strengthen the immune system.

Over the next two years, pharmaceutical company Novavax, based in Maryland, USA, plans to produce billions of doses of the vaccine, mainly for low- and middle-income countries, which will likely help them. becoming one of the largest suppliers of COVID-19 vaccines in the world.

Only a relatively small amount of Quillay extract is needed to produce a single dose of the vaccine – less than 1 milligram per dose.

Novavax's adjuvant, called Matrix-M, contains two important saponin molecules. One of them, called QS-21, is more difficult to access because it is found mainly in trees that are at least 10 years old.

Among the major pharmaceutical companies, only GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Novavax have bet heavily on QS-21, a relatively new pharmaceutical ingredient.

GSK has a very successful vaccine against shingles, Shingrix, and several other promising experimental vaccines containing QS-21 provided by Desert King. In a statement, GSK said it had "no specific challenges related to sustainable supply" for the QS-21.

The quillay-based adjuvant used in Shingrix is ​​also part of the world's first malaria vaccine, Mosquirix. Although the vaccine is not very effective, but with very high demand, this vaccine was approved by European regulatory authorities in 2015 and recommended by WHO to be piloted in 2016. There is no manufacturer. Any other COVID-19 vaccine is relying on an extract from the Quillay tree bark.

Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company Agenus stopped selling bark extract QS-21 a few years ago to focus full-time on trying to grow the substance from Quillay plant cells in the lab.

There are currently no official data on the number of healthy quillas left in Chile. Industry experts and officials say the supply of old trees will be depleted very quickly due to high demand. But nearly everyone agrees that industries that rely on Quillay extracts will at some point need to switch to a forest plant or a lab-grown alternative.

A Reuters analysis of export data from trade data provider ImportGenius shows that supplies of old quillay trees are under increasing pressure. Exports of Quillay products more than tripled to over 3,600 tonnes per year in the decade before the pandemic.

Ricardo San Martin, who developed the pruning and extraction process to create the modern Quillay industry, says manufacturers must immediately start making Quillay products from younger trees. , is planted in the forest.

"Four years ago I said we were approaching the ultimate limit of sustainability," said Martin.

The desert plant extract company, Desert King International Ltd, which operates the Casablanca plantation, is the sole supplier of Quillay extracts to Novavax and is by far the largest Chilean exporter of Quillay.

The director of Desert King International Ltd in Chile, Andres Gonzalez, said they are developing enough material to extract from older Quillay trees with the goal of making up to 4.4 billion doses of the vaccine by 2020. 2022. With new supplies coming from privately owned indigenous forests, they have enough raw materials to meet demand, partly from now until the end of the year, the rest the following year. However, he admits that "at some point these primeval forests will come to an end".

Google Tech News - Reuters

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