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Freeze-dried COVID vaccines? UB is working on it

The freeze-dried ingredients of a liposome-based vaccine that could be developed for COVID-19.
Douglas Levere
University at Buffalo
The freeze-dried ingredients of a liposome-based vaccine that could be developed for COVID-19.

A major problem with COVID-19 vaccines is the need to refrigerate them as they are shipped and stored. The Moderna vaccine requires really cold refrigeration. However, University at Buffalo researchers are working on techniques to freeze-dry vaccines so they can be shipped into areas where refrigeration isn't common.

Refrigeration is a problem in many parts of the world. The UB research is coming out of a lab working with researchers across a large part of the world. The new vaccination is in a human test by a South Korean pharmaceutical company.

The freeze-dry process was originally developed to work with a malaria vaccine. The underlying liposome technology is used in a COVID vaccine now being tested by a South Korean drug company.

U.B. PhD student Moustafa Mabrouk, a trained pharmacist, was part of the team working on a malaria vaccine.

"We started with a malaria vaccine to be specifically for this kind of problem and when Pfizer and Moderna started work for an extreme cold chain requirement, we started thinking we could do the same thing for the COVID vaccine that we have," Mabrouk said.

The process involves removing the water, potentially shipping it that way and then restoring it to usefulness with distilled water. The researchers said just a pinch of sugar protects the drug formula during the freezing and drying.

"The basic premise is very well established," said Associate Biomedical Engineering Professor Jonathan Lovell. "You freeze something and then you dry it, basically. The finding that we had in this work was that if you tried to just freeze the nano-particle vaccine, when you try to add water back to it to reconstitute it, it wouldn't form properly, it would clump up. So we took an approach to add a small amount of sugar."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.