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Elon Musk confirmed that he is embarking on a trip to Germany for two important reasons. First, he is going to check out the development progress at Berlin’s Gigafactory, and second, he will review Tesla’s endeavors in building a new vaccine printer with CureVac.
It was announced earlier this year that Tesla is partnering with the biotech company to work on a vaccine for COVID-19 based on RNA technology. RNA (Ribonucleic acid) is a molecule found within all forms of cellular life, and it has been described as a sister molecule to DNA. CureVac developed its mRNA technology in an approach to find a COVID-19 vaccine. This is similar to the approach being used by Moderna, Pfizer, and BioNTech. It takes a small piece of messenger RNA that codes for a specific molecule on the surface of the virus. It’s injected into the body and causes the cells to create that molecule in order to train the immune system to recognize the virus and then neutralize it before it can replicate.
CureVac has now found a way to stabilize the molecule and have it deliver ways to fight specific diseases to the body. The Tesla printers, described as RNA micro-factories, are being engineered for use in remote locations. Current manufacturing devices and processes use a lot of manual handling and need well-trained technical staff. The mini factory is supposed to save on minimize time, space, equipment, and personnel. So, Tesla would be making an automated system for RNA printing to deploy it around the world.
The printers are currently being built at Tesla Grohmann Automation in Germany, which was acquired by Tesla in 2016 as it manufactures systems for batteries and fuel cells. Surprisingly, Tesla and CureVac have actually been working together since last year before we even got wind of the global COVID-19 pandemic. They filed a joint patent in June 2019 for a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro”. The biotech firm was working to cure other flu strains and diseases but turned its focus to COVID-19 when the pandemic hit. Now, they are already in the first phase of a clinical trial.
If and when this proves successful, CureVac will work with Tesla to rapidly deploy manufacturing systems, sometimes referred to as RNA printers, to make the drug widely available. In July, the Tesla EV manufacturer tweeted:
"In principle, I think synthetic RNA (and DNA) has amazing potential. This basically makes the solution to many diseases a software problem".
"Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA micro-factories for CureVac & possibly others".
Soon, Musk will be off to meet the team in Germany. His visit will also include checking up on Tesla’s Gigafactory in Berlin. We have seen remarkable construction progress over the past few weeks and Musk will no doubt want to see this first hand.
The irony of Tesla building Giga factories and mini-factories is amusing but truly innovative.
"CureVac is pioneering the development of a completely new class of drugs based on the messenger RNA (mRNA). The basic principle is the use of this molecule as a data carrier for information, with the help of which the body itself can produce its own active substances to combat various diseases.
It started with an unexpected discovery. CureVac’s founder, Dr. Ingmar Hoerr (a doctoral student at the time), discovered that when it was administered directly into tissue, the historically unstable biomolecule mRNA could be used as a therapeutic vaccine or agent after optimization—no complicated reformulations or molecular packaging needed."