Screening of Vaccine Precursors


Problem – Pandemics and changing virus strains

Pandemics, the rapid spread of infectious diseases to a large number of people within a short period of time and over large regions, are a growing threat to modern mankind. Globalisation and ever faster movement of people and goods mean that previously unknown or mutated strains of the virus can spread rapidly across the globe. Even before the era of globalization, the Spanish flu claimed about 50 million lives during its outbreak 100 years ago. Although the more recent influenza pandemics of 1957, 1968, 1977 and 2009 were milder, they show the great pandemic potential of the viruses. Seasonal influenza alone leads to 290,000 to 650,000 deaths worldwide – every year. Other viruses such as Ebola, Zika or the novel corona virus also have the potential to trigger devastating pandemics worldwide.

Vaccinations are the best prevention against epidemics and pandemics. However, current influenza vaccines are comparatively ineffective: the virus changes its surface frequently and so quickly that current vaccine development methods are simply too slow. By the time the vaccines are ready for distribution – about 6 months after strain identification – the viruses

Solution – Vaccines in as little as 2 days

BioCopy, a start-up of the Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, intends to revolutionize vaccine development. Molecular changes of new or mutated pathogens can be identified within 2 days. With this vaccine precursor, an adapted, optimal vaccine can then be provided promptly. This guarantees effective and, above all, fast protection against upcoming pandemics and rapidly changing virus strains.

The BioCopy technology is unique and is protected by 12 patents worldwide. The basis of the innovation is a biomolecule copier, which is similar to the principle of photocopying – only that the pixels consist of DNA or protein.

In the case of vaccine development, the genetic information of a pathogen such as the influenza virus is transferred to a special cavity chip. This cavity chip carries thousands of small isolated chambers on its surface, in which fragments of the genetic information of the pathogen are distributed. Each cavity can now be imagined as a DNA pixel. By adding biochemical copy mixtures, a copy of each DNA pixel is created in the form of a protein pixel. Each pixel of this protein copy contains a different protein of the pathogen. The starting point for finding a new vaccine precursor against the pathogen is always the blood of a person who has survived the disease. This blood contains antibodies that protect against the disease by binding important proteins of the pathogen and thus making it visible to the immune system. They therefore only bind to the protein pixels that are potentially important for immunization. All protein pixels bound by pathogen-specific antibodies from the blood represent the first synthetic vaccine precursor. Their genetic information is then isolated. With the genetic information, a vaccine can now be produced biosynthetically quickly and on a large scale; cell-based or recombinant. Vaccinated individuals now produce their own antibodies against the harmless proteins of the vaccine and are thus protected from the actual pathogen. Therefore, our method is generally applicable for any pathogen.