Wallet-Friendly Oral Hepatitis B Vaccine in Development

By using genetically modified corn, researchers are another step closer to an oral vaccine for hepatitis B, a virus that has infected almost two billion people worldwide.

By using genetically modified corn, researchers are another step closer to an oral vaccine for hepatitis B, a virus that has infected almost two billion people worldwide.

The Applied Biotechnology Institute (ABI) paired up with a research team at Iowa State University to develop the new vaccination that does not require refrigeration and costs less than $1 to make. If all goes according to plan, the vaccine could become available by 2018 and opens the door for more antibiotics to jump on the corn-based bandwagon.

"Even though an effective injectable hepatitis B vaccine was developed more than 30 years ago, high infection rates still persist in areas of the world where people cannot afford the vaccine or do not have reliable refrigeration," John Howard, PhD, president of ABI, said in a news release.

While most vaccines call for an injection, this development would not require the assistance of medical staff. Instead of growing weakened or inactivated versions of pathogens in eggs like most vaccines, this medication comes from genetically modified corn that produces a non-infectious hepatitis B virus-like particle. When sugar and water is added to the flour made from the corn grain, it can be made into an edible wafer.

"Our work provides the first insight on how various methods of processing of plant material can affect the structure of the virus-like particles," Shweta Shah, PhD, a staff scientist on the research team, said. "Processing affects the structure of the virus-like particles that are formed, as well as the efficacy of the vaccine."

It only cost one cent for the raw materials of each wafer and Howard estimates that the vaccine will cost less than 10 percent of the injectable vaccines that are currently administered. The fact that this vaccine does not need to be refrigerated is also a major pro. It can be shipped out at room temperature and stored for years while maintaining its strength from the proteins and enzymes found in corn.

The API will begin human trials of the vaccine upon FDA approval, which is estimated to happen within the next year.

"This research brings us a step closer to vaccines that can be distributed throughout the world without refrigeration requirements as well as administered quickly and inexpensively,” Howard said.