In August 2022, representatives from the ANU Canberra node of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility visited the Quebec City headquarters of Medicago R&D Inc.

The Canadian biopharmaceutical company is collaborating with the ANU and the APPF ANU Team on a five-year project to optimise production of Virus-Like Particles (VLPs) a plant-based technology that is used to produce vaccines and protein-based therapeutics.

APPF ecophysiologist Dr Richard Poiré and Dr Frederike Stock, with Dr Liang Zheng from the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, spent three days with the Medicago team in Canada to get a first-hand look at their plant-infiltration process and molecular assays, and to give presentations on APPF’s capabilities and achievements.

Medicago uses Nicotiana benthamiana, a species native to Australia, to produce its VLPs. The research project is looking at factors that regulate VLP production in the plant and APPF had developed technologies to monitor the plants non-invasively and apply machine learning to imagery analysis.

One reason for the APPF team’s recent visit was to study Medicago’s in-house plant-infiltration process in order to provide a parallel capability at ANU for the next phase of this project. This included a range of technology transfer activities and demonstrations covering inoculum preparation, vacuum infiltration, proteolytic activity quantification, RNA extraction and more.

The Australian delegation were able to tour Medicago’s facilities, meet with CEO Mr Toshifumi Tada, and host a seminar for the Medicago R&D team.

They were also able to attend the concurrent Canadian Association of Plant Biotechnology Conference, where they presented to the session on Plant Biofactories and Recombinant Proteins with Medicago.

Special thanks to Dr Pooja Saxena, Dr Louis-Phillippe Hamel, Pierre-Olivier Lavoie, Dr Marc-André Comeau, Sébastien Isabelle, Yannick Lessard, and the whole Medicago team for their hospitality.