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SQI: Simpson Querry Institute

Cell-free biotechnology could help accelerate COVID-19 therapeutics

“We believe that cell-free biomanufacturing can cut production times of antiviral medicines to the timescale of just a few months rather than closer to a year. This could help us address the current outbreak.”


Michael Jewett, SQI faculty member

A startup company co-founded by SQI faculty member Michael Jewett is using a cell-free biomanufacturing approach to speed the production of antiviral medications that could potentially treat the coronavirus.

The company, SwiftScale Biologics, is working to rapidly produce and test a promising antibody therapy developed by an outside biotherapeutics company. Jewett said the synthetic biology-based platform could cut the production time of new drugs down to a few months rather than closer to a year.

“Since the COVID-19 outbreak, we have dedicated nearly all of our resources to producing an antiviral therapy to fight it,” Jewett said in a Northwestern Now press release. “Specifically, we are designing simplified antibody-based drugs that can be produced in bacteria rather than mammalian cells, which are far slower and more expensive to scale. In this way, we believe that we will be able to get a COVID-19 treatment into the clinic and ultimately to affected patients worldwide more quickly while increasing access.”

Jewett is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and director of Northwestern’s Center for Synthetic Biology. He co-founded SwiftScale Biologics with Matthew DeLisa, the William L. Lewis Professor of Engineering at Cornell and director of the Cornell Institute of Biotechnology, and David Mace from 8VC.