Economy

Curevac and Tesla are developing a printer for mRNA drugs

THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP via Getty Images

The Tübingen-based biotech company Curevac is developing a printer that can be used to build tailor-made mRNA drugs and which should be easy to set up in medical practices or pharmacies. The technology also offers great potential for other medical areas, including cancer therapy. The “Wirtschaftswoche” reported on it first.

A prototype of the printer already exists in Tübingen. It is about the size of a car and should be easy to transport and set up. In principle, it is a small pharmaceutical laboratory that can print mRNA.

Mini pharmaceutical laboratory that prints mRNA – using assembly instructions via download

The messenger substance mRNA has gained prominence in the discussion about corona vaccinations. Put simply, it acts as a building guide for proteins in the cells of the human body. In the case of mRNA vaccines, for example, the body is induced to produce a certain virus protein itself – which then calls the immune system on the scene. In terms of logistics – especially transport and storage – these vaccines are a challenge because they constantly need to be frozen.

That could change with the mRNA printer. It can stand anywhere and function like a mini pharmaceutical laboratory. The necessary raw materials would be delivered by courier, and the respective building instructions for the mRNA would then be available for download, according to the “Wirtschaftswoche”. However, the machine must also be a clean room, into which no substances can penetrate from the outside – and a refrigerator so that the mRNA does not break down.

Tesla boss Elon Musk is enthusiastic about the project

For the difficult technical implementation, Curevac has been cooperating with Grohmann Engineering since 2015, reports the business magazine. Today the partner is called Tesla Grohmann Automation, the automation specialist was taken over by the American electric car manufacturer in 2017. As a result, Curevac boss Ingmar Hoerr spoke personally with Tesla CEO Elon Musk about the project. Musk let Grohmann pursue the project and is enthusiastic about the idea. “That makes the healing of many diseases a software problem”, tweeted Musk last year.

The Tesla boss is not wrong with this, because if Curevac gets his printer up and running, scientists will soon be able to design personalized mRNA drugs on the computer. As with a regular printer, the raw materials could be put together differently depending on the construction plan. And Curevac is not only working on a vaccine against the coronavirus, but also on mRNA-based cancer therapies. However, it will take years before the device is ready for the masses.

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