Tokyo (SCCIJ) – The Swiss start-up BioCopy is working on a solution to stifle another pandemic in its early stages. The young company, originating from the Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, aims to identify molecular changes of new or mutated pathogens within two days. With this vaccine precursor, an adapted and improved vaccine can then be provided promptly. This method enables effective and fast protection against future pandemics and rapidly changing virus strains.
Photocopier for molecules
Vaccinations are the best prevention against epidemics and pandemics like influenza and Covid-19. However, current vaccines could become comparatively ineffective because such viruses change their surface frequently. By the time the vaccines are ready for distribution – about six months after strain identification – the viruses may have already changed significantly again.
The BioCopy technology protected by 12 global patents allows to shortcut this slow development. The innovation is based on a biomolecule copier, similar to the principle of photocopying – only that the pixels consist of DNA or protein. “Instead of copying colors, we make biomolecular copies of DNA in the form of DNA, RNA, and protein,” explains physicist and biochemist Günter Roth, co-founder and managing director of BioCopy.
“In principle, you can use any DNA for this, and depending on the copying program and the test, you can make something special out of it. If we take viral DNA and the blood of a survivor, we can derive vaccine components, but also markers for diagnostics and therapy, and also tell how well is this person protected against the virus,” Roth added. The start-up already outlined more than 50 other applications. Among them are allergy tests, rapid tests, gene therapies, and much more.
Identifying virus mutations
The starting point for finding a new vaccine precursor against the pathogen is always the blood of a person who has survived the disease. This blood contains antibodies that protect against the disease by binding important proteins of the pathogen. The antibodies are making the pathogen visible to the immune system. Therefore, they only bind to the protein pixels that are potentially important for immunization.
All protein pixels bound by pathogen-specific antibodies from the blood represent the first synthetic vaccine precursor. Their genetic information is then isolated and transferred to a special cavity chip. It carries thousands of small separate chambers on its surface, in which fragments of the genetic information of the pathogen are distributed.
With the genetic information identified, a vaccine can now be produced biosynthetically quickly and on a large scale. Vaccinated individuals will produce antibodies against the harmless proteins of the vaccine. They are now protected from the actual pathogen. This method is generally applicable to any pathogen. The technology of BioCopy was not ready for the fight against the coronavirus, but in the future, it may be used to identify molecular changes of this virus much more quickly.
Text: SCCIJ with material of BioCopy