A team of researchers from the Institute of Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering at TU Graz and the Austrian Center of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) have developed a new method for producing crucial components of mRNA vaccines. The team has filed a patent for the method, which involves biocatalytic synthesis to produce the key vaccine ingredient pseudouridine, instead of the traditional chemical synthesis method.
Chemical synthesis of pseudouridine is expensive and time-consuming, requiring toxic reagents and rare raw materials, as well as four to eight process steps and cooling to minus 20 degrees. In contrast, biocatalytic synthesis only requires one process step with four parallel reactions occurring at room temperature, using only four enzymes as catalysts that can be easily produced with E.coli bacteria. Biocatalysis produces no waste materials and achieves a yield of 92 to 95%, compared to just 40% to 50% for the chemical processes.
The team based their new process on an earlier study that discovered the YeiN enzyme as a biocatalyst for the production of C-nucleotides. They then took uridine, which can be produced in large quantities by bacterial fermentations, as a raw material and re-established the bond between its basic building blocks to create pseudouridine.
The team hopes to implement production on a larger scale soon and make pseudouridine available sustainably and cheaply in larger quantities. This could possibly reduce the cost of producing mRNA vaccines in the medium term.