Health Care

Lab Works On ‘cool’ Vaccine Solution

By Beth A. Klahre, posted May 3, 2024
UNCW associate professor of chemistry Ying Wang works in a chemistry lab at the university. Wang works on how better to store mRNA pharmaceuticals without depending on cold storage. (Photo c/o UNCW)
Backed by years of biologics formulation development for mRNA vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and peptide drugs, Ying Wang, associate professor of chemistry, started The Wang Lab at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in July 2015. 

Since then, The Wang Lab has developed new formulation technologies in collaboration with four large pharmaceutical firms and one biotech startup. 

An offshoot of the lab, Wang and his colleagues, chemistry major Carson Jackson and graduate student Harrison Wooten, launched DuraVax Inc. to develop formulation technologies that solve the cold-storage requirement challenge for mRNA vaccines like the COVID vaccine.

“We were studying a cool natural phenomenon of mRNA in cells during COVID lockdown,” Wang said. “And we realized that our scientific understanding may help solve the cold chain challenges of mRNA vaccines.”

mRNA vaccines introduce a small piece of a protein found on the virus’s outer membrane. When it’s not inside a cell, mRNA needs protection to keep it from disintegrating. A cold chain for transporting and storing the vaccines is required. 

The cold chain begins when the vaccine is manufactured and continues through transportation to the distribution center, ending with the local immunization provider at the time of administration. Throughout the entire supply chain, the vaccines are maintained within a range from -112 degrees Fahrenheit to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the vaccines are unboxed and thawed, they can be kept in a refrigerator for approximately two weeks. 

“At ambient temperatures in southern America or in tropical countries that reach as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit, mRNA degrades in a couple of hours without cold storage,” Wang said. 

The knowledge underlying the technology that eliminates the need for the cold chain was accumulated over the years during formulation development research at The Wang Lab. 

“We have been working on the specific mRNA formulation technology for two years,” Wang said. “Because we don’t need to change the chemical composition of mRNA and lipid nanoparticles in the existing vaccine, pharmaceutical companies can easily adopt our secret ingredients and process to convert their own vaccines into a thermostable formulation.” 

Vaccine development is a 10-plus-year process consisting of basic research and preclinical studies, including tests in animals, followed by clinical studies on humans. Formulation development is an integrated part of vaccine development from a very early stage. The development plan for DuraVax was made after talking with literally hundreds of drug and vaccine developers. 

“When DuraVax developed our formulation technology, we kept the entire vaccine development process in mind. Using only FDA-approved ingredients, our formulation process can be seamlessly incorporated into vaccine developers’ existing pipelines,” he said. “While we didn’t make new vaccines directly, our novel formulation technologies allow room temperature storage and transportation of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID mRNA as well as any other emerging mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for treating various infectious diseases, cancers and other diseases.” 

This development distributes vaccines to areas without adequate cold-storage facilities or trained personnel. This, in turn, reduces vaccine waste due to improper storage, freezer malfunction and open vial wastage.

Wang recently received nearly $275,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation Small Business Technology Transfer to test DuraVax’s technology on additional mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics.

He intends to push the limit of room-temperature shelf life with the expectation of launching the formulation technology globally to large pharmaceutical companies in two years.

The Wang Lab collaborates with large pharmaceutical companies, including Merck and Eli Lilly.

“Wilmington is one of the most vibrant communities of entrepreneurship in the country,” he said. “UNCW has provided support to incubate advances in sciences and innovations. And state funding agencies such as NC Biotech Center and NCInnovation have provided essential funding and business training to help scientists move their innovation outside the lab.

“Like all scientists,” he added, “we feel content and excited to see our research get out of the lab door and help people in real life.”
Ico insights


Jessiepowellheadshot webversion

5 Reasons to Build Custom Franchise Software

Jessie Powell - Wide Open Tech
Tommytaylor ceo unitedway

How Philanthropy Fits Into Your Financial Plan

Tommy Taylor - United Way
Unknown 7112393341

Why Feasibility is Paramount to Success

Holly Segur - Lead Intuitively – Corporate Coaching

Trending News

Filling In: Apartments Edge Into Downtown Pockets

Emma Dill - Jun 20, 2024

Entrepreneur Buys Downtown Building For Escape Room Venture

Emma Dill - Jun 21, 2024

Star Power: Feature Film Uses Carolina Beach Setting

Staff Reports - Jun 20, 2024

Aging In Place

David W. Frederiksen - Jun 21, 2024

Testing The Waters: New Regulations Are Flowing To Make Water Safer

Audrey Elsberry - Jun 20, 2024

In The Current Issue

Beach Towns Rank On USA Today Top 10 List

Carolina Beach garnered the top spot of the local beaches at No. 2....

Aging In Place

Based on an age-in-place philosophy, CCRCs have existed for more than a century....

Info Junkie: ChyAnn Ketchum

ChyAnn Ketchum, public information officer for the city of Southport, shares her top info and tech picks....

Book On Business

The 2024 WilmingtonBiz: Book on Business is an annual publication showcasing the Wilmington region as a center of business.

Order Your Copy Today!



2024 Power Breakfast: The Next Season