Virus-like particles could dramatically accelerate the process of vaccine production.
Virus-like particles (VLPs), mere shells of actual viruses, can be used to create vaccines in weeks instead of months, according to Novavax Inc. of Rockville, Md.
The research could make vaccine production faster and more reliable than existing methods, and save hundreds of thousands of lives.
"The outside of the virus-like particles looks like a virus," said Rahul Singhvi, the president and CEO of Novavax, "but inside there is no genetic material."
Influenza virus, for example, is a pretty simple creature. A protein coat, tipped with two major proteins, encases a strand of RNA, which is used to replicate viruses, containing eight genes.
The variations of the two major proteins, called hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, are what infectious disease officials use to identify the various strains of flu: H5N1 for bird flu and H1N1 for swine flu, for example.
To create a vaccine that preps the body's immune system to find and destroy influenza, researchers have traditionally injected a seed virus, developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, into chicken eggs.