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A Synthetic Vaccine

Synthetic biology could help hasten vaccine development, writes Susan Young at MIT's Technology Review. She writes that Novartis is trying out chemically synthesizing viral genomes to grow in tissue culture rather than the standard approach of growing flu viruses up in chicken eggs for vaccine production. Philip Dormitzer, leader of viral vaccine research for Novartis, said at a meeting at MIT that when his team tested this approach in 2011 on the flu virus, it started synthesizing a chemical viral genome one Monday morning and had viruses growing in culture by midday Friday.

"The idea is to build a synthetic virus based on sequence data that can be distributed much more quickly than actual viral material harvested at the site of an outbreak," Young adds. "The synthetic viral genome combines a genomic backbone common to many flu viruses with genes specific to the strains seen in a new outbreak."