Tardigrades Provide Key Ingredient to Remove the Cold Chain for Biologics - Trehalose

Monday, June 5 2023

Tardigrades, or "water bears", have been around for over 500 million years and are classified as extremophiles because of the extreme environments they can survive in (boiling water to solid ice!) Shutterstock Photo. 

Vaccines, a critical tool to protect the world from deadly disease, are difficult to access in some areas because of the complex, expensive cold-chain (refrigeration and/or freezing) required to store and distribute the life-saving health solutions.  Researchers are studying novel formulations of vaccines, to improve the stability of vaccine drug products to reduce the cold chain requirements, ensuring equitable access to vaccines.

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, can survive in extreme environments by producing a sugar that slows down cell functions to a near stop, without killing itself. This sugar, called trehalose, is a key ingredient in stabilizing vaccine ingredients so that vaccines can withstand ambient temperature conditions for extended periods of time.

Existing vaccines on the market will likely stay formulated as they are – “many were developed decades ago. They’re not going to be re-formulated into thermo-stable vaccines overnight,” Christopher Fox, PhD, senior vice president of formulations at AAHI tells Gail Dutton at Leaps.Org. However, new vaccines under development offer an opportunity to develop formulations with enhanced stability, including AAHI’s lyophilized tuberculosis vaccine candidate that contains trehalose and demonstrated stability for 3 months at 37 degrees Celsius, while also maintaining or improving the safety profile and immune responses generated in participants in a clinical trial.

Equitable access to vaccines with the latest mRNA technology has been hampered by the requirement for an ultra-cold chain, but the latest vaccine formulation breakthroughs to stabilize both protein and RNA vaccine products offer a promising path forward with the right investment and commitment to the development of effective and efficient vaccines that can be distributed to everyone, regardless of where they live.