Researchers at Brigham Young University have devised a system that could speed up the process of making life-saving vaccines for new viruses.

The system uses freeze-drying that would enable stockpiles of vaccines to be prepared in advance and ready for use when a new virus hits.

The concept is based on the emerging method of cell-free protein synthesis, a process that combines DNA to make proteins needed for drugs instead of growing protein in a cell. With the new system, most of the work is done beforehand. Labs could simply add water to a kit to rapidly produce vaccines, the university explained.

Traditional systems used to produce vaccines for pandemic influenza strains require heavy engineering and specialized equipment available at only a few labs across the United States. What’s more, these traditional systems are time-consuming.

With the new system, “you could just pull it off the shelf and make it,” said senior author Brad Bundy, associate professor of chemical engineering. “We could make the vaccine and be ready for distribution in a day.”

This method “will not only provide a quicker response to pandemics, but it will also make protein-based drugs more available to Third World countries where production and refrigerated storage can be problematic,” added William Pitt, a study coauthor and fellow BYU professor of chemical engineering.

The researchers are currently testing their version of the cell-free, recombinant DNA process for vaccine production. They have already successfully demonstrated it for at least one anti-cancer protein.

Details of the research have been published in Biotechnology Journal.