Photo: Car and Bike
CureVac—along with the cutting-edge equipment Tesla produced for it—is preparing to receive approval for a vaccine against COVID-19. The founder of the company is already leading the next project in collaboration with Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk, which should revolutionize the medicine industry: a printer for the production of drugs.
CureVac, based in Tübingen, is working on technology that could greatly simplify vaccination logistics and thus limit the spread of COVID-19. What's more, the company also promises to help treat other diseases such as cancer.
CureVac, in direct collaboration with Musk and Tesla, is working on a unique and innovative drug printer that can be installed in doctors' offices. "This could be nothing more than a 'revolution' in pharmaceutical manufacturing," Ingmar Hoerr, founder and CEO of CureVac, told WirtschaftsWoche. The new technology can make possible "what did not exist before."
The printer, which CureVac already has a prototype in Tübingen, is about the size of a regular car but needs to be transported and installed quickly. “You can think of it as a refrigerator, a mini-pharmaceutical lab that can print mRNA,” Hoerr said.
The mRNA is used in the human body as a guide to the construction of protein molecules, which are responsible for most of the processes in cells. In the COVID-19 vaccine, mRNAs from CureVac cells stimulate the production of a viral protein, which triggers an immune response against the virus.
Currently, mRNA vaccines such as those developed by BioNTech and Moderna, are produced in huge factories and from there are transported with great logistics efforts around the world. Refrigerated boxes and special transporters must ensure that vaccines are completely frozen so that they do not lose their effectiveness.
The mRNA printer that Tesla and CureVac are working on could greatly simplify production. “The printers can be placed in pharmacies and doctors' offices around the world,” Hoerr said. The required reagents will be delivered there by courier, and the corresponding prescription for the required medicine will be downloaded over the Internet, then the medicine will be "printed" on-site.
The idea for such a machine came from the CureVac team a few years ago, but the company still lacked the know-how of the production material. Therefore, in 2015, the Tübingen-based company started a collaboration with the automation specialist Grohmann from Prüm. In 2017, Tesla acquired Grohmann to leverage the technology for car production, to further automate and improve on efficiency in its car and battery factories. In addition, Musk then gave Grohmann engineers the go-ahead for the implementation of the CureVac project, and in 2020 began to very actively support it.
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In fact, CureVac and Tesla are not only working on a vaccine against the COVID-19, but, among other things, on mRNA therapy for cancer. With the help of an mRNA printer, specialists will be able in the future to develop mRNA drugs on a computer, tailored for a particular patient. The CureVac machine will be equipped with a variety of chemicals and will be able to convert a digital prescription into a physical preparation of mRNA for a specific person. Doctors call this approach personalized medicine.
“There is still a lot to optimize,” Hoerr admitted. It will take several years before the device is put into mass production. However, the first strands of mRNA for testing purposes are due out of the printer in Tübingen this summer.
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