Digital twin of mRNA-based SARS-COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing towards autonomous operation for improvements in speed, scale, robustness, flexibility and real-time release testing

Supplying SARS-COVID-19 vaccines in quantities to meet global demand has a bottleneck in manufacturing capacity. Assessment of existing mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccine processing shows the need for digital twins enabled by process analytical technology approaches to improve process transfers for manufacturing capacity multiplication, reduction of out-of-specification batch failures, qualified personnel training for faster validation and efficient operation, optimal utilization of scarce buffers and chemicals, and faster product release. A digital twin of the total pDNA (plasmid deoxyribonucleic acid) to mRNA process is proposed. In addition, a first feasibility of multisensory process analytical technology (PAT) is shown. Process performance characteristics are derived as results and evaluated regarding manufacturing technology bottlenecks. Potential improvements could be pointed out such as dilution reduction in lysis, and potential reduction of necessary chromatography steps. 1 g pDNA may lead to about 30 g mRNA. This shifts the bottleneck towards the mRNA processing step, which points out co-transcriptional capping as a preferred option to reduce the number of purification steps. Purity demands are fulfilled by a combination of mixed-mode and reversed-phase chromatography as established unit operations on a higher industrial readiness level than e.g., precipitation and ethanol-chloroform extraction. As a final step, lyophilization was chosen for stability, storage and transportation logistics. Alternative process units like UF/DF (ultra-/diafiltration) integration would allow the adjustment of final concentration and buffer composition before lipid-nano particle (LNP) formulation. The complete digital twin is proposed for further validation in manufacturing scale and utilization in process optimization and manufacturing operations. The first PAT results should be followed by detailed investigation of different batches and processing steps in order to implement this strategy for process control and reliable, efficient operation.


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