Biotech & Health
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A Silver Spring Biotech Facility is the Only One of Its Kind in the Entire U.S. Military; And It’s Making a “Catch-All” COVID-19 Vaccine

MBS Staff
Man in WRAIR PBR facility in Silver Spring.

Image: WRAIR

Inside the Beltway and about a mile from Silver Spring’s downtown, some especially important and groundbreaking research is happening at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) campus. In fact, one facility on the campus is so cutting-edge it's the only one of its kind in the entire U.S. Military and the research being conducted there could eliminate all current and future COVID-19 variants with one shot. 

The Army at WRAIR is developing a COVID-19 vaccine that could be a “catch-all” against SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-origin variants. Using developed technology called Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle (SpFN), the platform has shown promising results. The development began all the way in early 2020 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and since April of 2021 began Phase 1 Human trials according to The Hill

SpFN's are major iron storage proteins with a hollow interior cavity, they are harmless and found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19 according to the National Institutes Of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Working with the Army are two Montgomery County-based life sciences organizations, downtown Bethesda-based CAMRIS International and North Bethesda-based parent, the Henry M Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine. They play key supportive and manufacturing roles.

Any results related to the SpFN vaccine and testing on the Omicron variant haven’t been released by the Army yet but based on encouraging results at WRAIR, information should be released soon.

If the vaccine is successful, WRAIR’s Pilot Bioproduction Facility (PBF) in the Forest Glenn area of Silver Spring would be the first to manufacture the vaccine. It is the only current Good Manufacturing Practice or cGMP-compliant pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense. 

Established as the Department of Biologics Research in 1953, the 15,000 square foot facility completed extensive renovations in 2020 that began in 2016. 9,000 square feet is designated as cleanroom space.

The PBF can handle any step in the drug manufacturing process. Not only has it worked with government organizations but also academic institutions, and private biopharmaceutical enterprises.

The Institute and facility have played critical roles in developing vaccines for hepatitis A, meningitis, dengue fever, malaria, adenovirus, Japanese encephalitis, shigellosis, and most recently the Zika virus.

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