An Efficient and Scalable Method for the Production of Immunogenic SARS-CoV-2 Virus-like Particles (VLP) from a Mammalian Suspension Cell Line
The rapid evolution of new SARS-CoV-2 variants poses a continuing threat to human health. Vaccination has become the primary therapeutic intervention. The goal of the current work was the construction of immunogenic virus-like particles (VLPs). Here, we describe a human cell line for cost-efficient and scalable production of immunogenic SARS-CoV-2 VLPs. The modular design of the VLP-production platform facilitates rapid adaptation to new variants. Methods: The N, M-, and E-protein genes were integrated into the genome of Expi293 cells (ExpiVLP_MEN). Subsequently, this cell line was further modified for the constitutive expression of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The resulting cell line (ExpiVLP_SMEN) released SARS-CoV-2 VLP upon exposure to doxycycline. ExpiVLP_SMEN cells were readily adapted for VLP production in a 5 L bioreactor. Purified VLPs were quantified by Western blot, ELISA, and nanoparticle tracking analysis and visualized by electron microscopy. Immunogenicity was tested in mice. Results: The generated VLPs contained all four structural proteins, are within the size range of authentic SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, and reacted strongly and specifically with immunoserum from naturally infected individuals. The VLPs were stable in suspension at 4 °C for at least 10 weeks. Mice immunized with VLPs developed neutralizing antibodies against lentiviruses pseudotyped with the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The flexibility of the VLP-production platform was demonstrated by the rapid switch of the spike protein to a new variant of concern (BA.1/Omicron). The present study describes an efficient, scalable, and adaptable production method of immunogenic SARS-CoV-2 VLPs with therapeutic potential.