New ‘spin freezing’ technique could enhance future mRNA vaccines

Spin freezing, Credit: Ghent University/RheaVita
  • Ghent University scientists launch CEPI-funded project ‘spin-freezing’ vaccines
  • The technique could remove the need for frozen storage of mRNA vaccines
  • It could also support rapid scale-up of vaccines during future disease outbreaks 

11 March 2024, OSLO, Norway and GHENT, Belgium – A top-ranking public research university in Belgium has received funding from CEPI to explore whether a pioneering vaccine stabilisation technique could end the need for frozen storage of mRNA vaccines and support a fast and scaled-up response to future outbreaks in as little as 100 days.

Ghent University will receive up to US $1.9 million to test the performance of optimised mRNA vaccines, developed on the university’s specialised mRNA Galsomes platform, in preclinical models after ‘spin-freezing’ the vaccines. Pioneered by RheaVita, a spin-off company of Ghent University, spin-freezing is a novel alternative to the traditional freeze-drying method. The research will be supported by Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB).  

Spin-freezing: the next vaccine-drying frontier?

In freeze-drying, certain types of vaccines and other products like diagnostics, therapeutics and foods are dehydrated and temporarily stored as a powder at heat-stable temperatures to inhibit spoilage, extend shelf life and increase access to these products in remote or low-resource settings (as the products no longer require frozen storage).

The new technique, spin-freezing, could offer additional benefits to this traditional freeze-drying method and therefore has the potential to become a preferred technique for vaccine makers. 

Spin-freezing works by rapidly rotating vials of vaccine along an axis while the flow of an inert and cold gas solidifies the vaccine into a thin powder film around the side of the vial. This allows for a much faster drying process and offers manufacturers more control of the process, which can help improve the quality of vaccines being produced. 

Vaccine producers can also spin-freeze vaccines continuously, vial by vial, thereby reducing expensive and time-consuming bottlenecks and delays that can commonly occur during traditional freeze-drying where vaccines are manufactured in batches. While batch manufacturing has long been the industry standard, continuous manufacturing could offer improved efficiency, with raw materials constantly fed into the production line and collected at the end to help bring vaccines to market more quickly. It could also reduce labour and waste to help with cost savings.

Altogether, these potential benefits could push forward the 100 Days Mission, a goal spearheaded by CEPI and embraced by the G7 and G20, to accelerate vaccine development to around 100 days from identification of a future virus and stop an outbreak before it becomes a pandemic.

“Innovators are increasingly looking to meet the challenge of rapidly scaling up of thermostable mRNA vaccine doses for wider global delivery” explains Ingrid Kromann, Acting Executive Director of Vaccine Manufacturing and Supply Chain at CEPI. “In addition to making mRNA vaccines thermostable, spin-freezing has the potential to flip the usual batch production process utilised by pharmaceutical manufacturers and instead offer continuous manufacturing, which, if successful, could promote fast and flexible mRNA vaccine production in response to future outbreaks.”

Dr. Ine Lentacker and Prof. Thomas De Beer, Ghent University, said: "We are currently validating our mRNA vaccine platform, mRNA Galsomes, as a prophylactic vaccine against various infectious diseases. Leveraging the innovative continuous freeze-drying technology and expertise in biomolecule production and analytics at Ghent University, we are excited that this collaboration between Ghent University and CEPI provides us with a great opportunity to improve the thermostability of mRNA Galsomes. We believe that our efforts to address challenges posed by cold chain distribution could significantly contribute to equitable access to mRNA vaccines globally."

Enabling equitable access

This is the latest partner announced following CEPI’s Call for thermostable vaccine manufacturing innovations. Awardees are selected based on their innovative technology, ease of use, and potential accessibility to the Global South without affecting factors like costs or capacity. If the project is successful, CEPI may further invest in the technology to assess the performance of mRNA vaccines that have undergone spin-freezing in human clinical trials.

Both CEPI and Ghent University are committed to enabling equitable access to any vaccine outputs developed through this partnership. Should additional CEPI funding be negotiated, there is the potential of technology transfer to a selected manufacturer if the technology could be used to address an outbreak, and affordable and transparent pricing for the Global South, in line with CEPI’s Equitable Access Policy. Further negotiations on access terms relating to the spin-freeze process and the mRNA Galsome platform and CEPI’s right to fund additional development of vaccine candidates against a selection of viruses of interest to CEPI will be negotiated at a potential next stage of funding. 




Notes to Editors
  • The project will assess mRNA vaccines developed against Influenza A subtype H2N2 virus in preclinical models after spin-freezing and storing the vaccines at 2-8 degrees Celsius, on Ghent University’s mRNA Galsome vaccine platform.
  • The platform is a novel technology designed to co-deliver mRNA encoding viral antigens alongside glycolipids, cellular components that strongly contribute to the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines to broaden and stimulate adaptive immune responses. An analytical toolbox will be developed at Ghent University to evaluate and understand the impact of the freeze-drying process on the mRNA Galsomes. mRNA vaccine formulations will be provided to Ghent University by Quantoom Biosciences (part of Univercells).
  • Ghent University’s platforms supporting multidisciplinary research, development and industry collaboration, CESPE (centre of excellence focussing on innovative manufacturing processes) and GATE (health platform of advanced therapies) will support the CEPI project.


About CEPI

CEPI was launched in 2017 as an innovative partnership between public, private, philanthropic and civil organisations. Its mission is to accelerate the development of vaccines and other biologic countermeasures against epidemic and pandemic threats so they can be accessible to all people in need. CEPI has supported the development of more than 50 vaccine candidates or platform technologies against multiple known high-risk pathogens or a future Disease X. Central to CEPI’s pandemic-beating five-year plan for 2022-2026 is the ‘100 Days Mission’ to compress the time taken to develop safe, effective, globally accessible vaccines against new threats to just 100 days.


About Ghent University 

Ghent University is one of the largest universities in Belgium, established in 1817, with more than 47,000 students and 15,000 staff members. With 86 departments across 11 faculties, it offers high-quality, research-supported education in almost every scientific discipline. In terms of research and scientific services, Ghent University hosts numerous research centers and laboratories active across all domains. Under the motto 'Dare to Think', Ghent University challenges everyone to take a critical view of society. We are a pluralistic university, open to everyone regardless of ideological, political, cultural, or social background. Ghent University Global Campus is the first European university in Songdo, South Korea.