Started last year, Project NESSIE will make it possible to produce highly complex vaccines in large quantities at low cost leveraging ceramic 3D printing. This novel process will make vaccines available to countries that previously could not afford the high cost of essential vaccines such as measles or rubella and it takes up even more significance as the world waits for a vaccine for COVID-19.
The recent pandemic caused by the new coronavirus shows the importance and the great need of vaccines that can effectively combat such diseases. However, the development of an effective vaccine involves a lot of effort and the highest safety standards. Production is often slow and very expensive: Project NESSIE addresses these weaknesses. NESSIE was initiated by SINTEF, a Norwegian research organization, Lithoz, world market leader in 3D printing of ceramics, and IBET, a Portuguese biopharmaceutical research center. genIbet and Cerpotech joined the consortium bringing their expertise on the manufacturing of biopharmaceuticals and innovative materials, respectively.
The project aims to increase the efficiency with which vaccines are produced and is already contributing to the development of novel methods to purify viruses, such as adenovirus. Adenoviruses are excellent vectors for delivering genes or vaccine antigens to humans. Many of the successful vaccines actually use viruses to deliver the necessary elements for the body to develop immunity. Such viruses are expensive to produce. Furthermore, such substances destined for use in humans require extra caution and purification of these viruses is very expensive.
The apparent paradox is that Lithoz‘ ultra-high-resolution ceramic 3D printing technology, which is usually perceived as being quite expensive, can actually dramatically reduce the cost of producing these vaccines by streamlining the process. This is done by applying a novel design for the manufacture of chromatographic columns (the most advanced purification technology), improving separation and reducing production costs.
NESSIE succeeded in the production of the first chromatographic supports (see picture below) and will soon test them for adenovirus purification. The Nessie research project shows that revolutionary technologies such as 3D printing can improve our healthcare system in a sustainable way. Already today we see the strengths of this digital technology. With the current shortage of medical supplies, 3D printing has proven that local manufacturing can be about more than just making prototypes. 3D printing is helping to quickly reproduce components regardless of location and without being dependent on complex supply chains, in a cost-effective way.