A process of developing vaccines through genetically modified corn may lead to an oral vaccine for hepatitis B virus (HBV) that does not require refrigeration and costs under $1 to manufacture. The biotech firm Applied Biotechnology Institute genetically engineered corn to produce an HBV-like particle that is not infectious. The corn grain can then be made into flour and mixed with sugar and water to produce a vaccine in an edible wafer form. These findings will be presented at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology 2015.

“Even though an effective injectable hepatitis B vaccine was developed more than 30 years ago, high infection rates still persist in areas of the world where people cannot afford the vaccine or do not have reliable refrigeration,” John Howard, PhD, president of Applied Biotechnology Institute, which is developing the new vaccine, said in a press release. “This research brings us a step closer to vaccines that can be distributed throughout the world without refrigeration requirements as well as administered quickly and inexpensively.”

Researchers used a method known as supercritical fluid extraction to take fat out of the corn; this, they found, yielded virus-like particles most similar to those in injectable vaccines. The edible wafer led to up to a four-fold greater immune response in mice.

Proteins and enzymes in the corn maintain the stability of the vaccine during storage and shipment and after consumption, until the wafer’s contents make their way to the gut and kick start an immune response. The vaccine can be stored for years in the wafer form and still maintain its potency. Trained staff are not required to administer the vaccine.

Human trials of the vaccine are expected to begin within the next year, with the possibility that it will receive approval as early as 2018.

To read the press release, click here.