Cape Biologix Technologies, a subsidiary of Cape Bio Pharms, based in South Africa, Quebec-based Inno-3B and Ontario-based PlantForm Corporation announced commercial agreements to scale up production of plant-based SARS-COV-2 antigens for an innovative blood test to detect COVID-19 antibodies.
The agreement states that Cape Biologix's proprietary SARS-COV-2 antigens, the spike protein that causes COVID-19 infection, will be produced in plants grown by Inno-3B. Then, PlantForm will extract, purify and manufacture the antigens for use as the reagent in rapid diagnostic antibody test kits to identify people who have previously been infected by the virus.
Together, the three companies will provide fast, low-cost and accurate plant-made proteins for COVID-19 monitoring and surveillance tools, said Dr. Don Stewart, PlantForm CEO (photo).
"We're seeing the impacts of the second wave of the pandemic right now, all over the world," he said. "This collaboration meets a critical need for effective, low-cost and widespread serology testing to determine the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in different populations, its rate of spread and whether people who recover from it develop lasting immunity."
Inno-3B and PlantForm will produce the plant-based SARS-COV-2 antigens at their respective Canadian facilities in Saint-Pacôme, Quebec and Bolton, Ontario using technology initially developed by Cape Bio Pharms. A Cape Town-based test kit manufacturer using these antigens has already received approval for their IgG/IgM diagnostic tests from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), paving the way to be the only locally manufactured kit to be distributed in South Africa.
Cape Biologix is also working with kit manufacturers in India for rapid scale up of production in early 2021, with plans to supply proteins to test kits manufacturers across Brazilian, Canadian and other international markets. Inno-3B and PlantForm are contracted to produce enough antigens for up to 200 million tests per year over a two-year period with the potential to extend if required.
"It's a simple finger-prick blood test that will detect whether a person has antibodies against the virus in their blood," said Belinda Shaw, Cape Biologix CEO. "This tells us whether a person's body has mounted an immune response against the virus, indicating that they have been exposed to COVID-19, within 5-8 days of infection. The body produces first IgM and later IgG antibodies, which are thought to last a number of months but the jury is out on whether this provides lasting immunity."
The test is designed to provide results in about 15 minutes. "Continuous testing of communities is essential to provide a footprint of where the disease has been as well as peace of mind to those who simply want to know – have I had it?," Shaw added.
Cape Biologix is also developing plant-made antibodies against the virus, which will enable kit manufacturers to produce a more powerful, rapid diagnostic tool to test for the virus itself quickly and affordably, said Tamlyn Shaw, Cape Biologix's Director of Product Development.
Cape Biologix and PlantForm are world leaders in using plant-based processes for rapid, low-cost production of antibodies and proteins that are used in research and by health-care companies to make a wide range of diagnostic tests, biologic drugs and vaccines. Inno-3B is providing their state-of-the-art vertical farming technology to rapidly scale up growth of plants used to express the target proteins.
"Our vertical farming technologies allow us to customize the ideal environment to optimize the specific growing stage of the distant cousin of the tobacco plant that we use to provide the SARS-COV-2 antigens. Our vertical growth towers significantly reduce production costs and speed up cultivation time, efficiency being the key factor to help stop the spread of COVID-19," said Martin Brault, CEO of Inno-3B.
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