Suppliers of vaccines, Covid treatments, and personal protective equipment (PPE) have pushed their supply chains to the limits over the past year. Now, a new challenge is emerging from an unlikely source—the deforestation of a Chilean evergreen known as the soap bark tree.
The bark of the 60-foot Quillaja saponaria tree has been used for more than three centuries as an ingredient in pharmaceuticals and food additives. In more recent times, researchers have used the tree-derived QS-21 compound, which enhances the immune response to vaccine antigens, in more than 17 vaccines, including those for shingles, malaria, and Covid-19. Now, however, excessive harvesting of soap bark forests is threatening the supply of the precious resource.
A Boston-based startup called Q-Vant Biosciences says it has found a sustainable way to meet the growing demand for QS-21. The company’s platform uses computational learning techniques and a multistep purification process to obtain the compound from a wider range of Quillaja-based plant materials than traditional methods, greatly increasing production volumes.
The company plans to ramp up production this year as drug companies continue their race to research, develop, and produce vaccines to combat the pandemic, Juan José Albarrán, Q-Vant’s chief commercial officer, said in a release.