Profile: Innovating Plant-Based Vaccines and Therapeutics

April
,
2017

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“Bringing a new product to market is never an easy task,” says Marc-André D’Aoust, Vice President, Research and Innovation, of Medicago. “At Medicago, we’re developing new products, such as influenza virus-like particles (VLPs), manufactured in a novel production platform — plant-based transient expression,” he says.

In 1999, D’Aoust was the seventh employee to join the clinical-stage biotechnology company. “It has been a fantastic journey from the small biotech company we were back in 1999 to the 300-employee pharmaceutical company we are now,” he says. Medicago’s head office and pilot facility are located in Quebec City, Canada, which is where D’Aoust is based. They also have a 97,000-ft2 commercial facility in Research Triangle Park, NC. “A great deal of my time is now spent exploring and evaluating assets and technologies for expanding applications in new fields of human therapeutics,” he says. He is a co-inventor on more than 330 patents or patent applications related to the company’s platform and products.

D’Aoust received his PhD in plant biochemistry and molecular biology from Laval Univ. in Quebec City. “The founders of Medicago reached out to me as I was finishing my PhD. All of the company’s research activities were being conducted in half a laboratory rented from the Horticultural Research Center at Laval Univ.,” he says.

“A job with Medicago represented a fantastic opportunity to apply my knowledge and expertise to the new crazy idea that plants could be used as bioreactors for the production of human therapeutics,” says D’Aoust. “The topic was hot at the time, the first demonstration of production of a human protein in plants having been published only a decade before.” During his graduate studies, D’Aoust developed synthetic promoters for the study of gene expression, and was eager to use that research experience in his career. “I saw this position at Medicago as a possibility to engineer new systems to manufacture useful products for human health — a modern way to use the oldest source of pharmaceuticals for the next generation of human medicines,” he says.

“I was hired to develop expression tools to produce pharmaceutical proteins in alfalfa,” D’Aoust recollects. “Indeed, the name of the company is...

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