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CHICAGO — A group of local researchers are using bio-manufacturing to help develop mass quantities of potential drugs to test and ultimately treat patients with COVID-19.

Valinomycin is a naturally-occurring molecule that appears to stop SARS in its tracks and doctors hope it will do the same for patients with COVID-19.

“I think we and others are hoping this could be one of many possible options that scientists and society could use to help prevent continued infection of COVID-19,” said Dr. Mike Jewett, Northwestern Medicine Biomedical Engineer.

But first Dr. Jewett and his team want to make a synthetic version in the lab — and they want to make it fast.
What would typically take years is taking the team weeks to months because they’re using what’s known as cell-free bio-manufacturing. It’s a process where they remove the molecule from its cell and then manipulate it alone — without the interference from other structures or substances that often get in the way and delay production.
“So this cell free bio-manufacturing approach is really kind of special,” said Dr. Jewett. “You can kind of think of it like taking a car and opening the hood up and taking the engine and pulling the engine out of the car and then repurposing the engine to do something else. in this case we are taking the molecular machinery out of the cell kind of like taking the engine and then repurposing it to make meds faster.”
The method increases the yield of the molecule by 5,000 times. That means more of the material is available to test in large-scale studies.

Dr. Jewett said the speed of manufacturing is an attractive factor, not just for Valinomycin, but for any promising treatment for COVID-19.
“I think right now more than ever it’s become clear we need to have manufacturing capabilities, even in particular domestic manufacturing capabilities that allow us to move incredibly fast. This is an urgent problem, we can’t sit on the sidelines. We need to throw everything we have at it to address it.”

Dr. Jewett said the method can be applied to other potential treatments to ramp up bio-manufacturing to combat COVID-19.