Tesla building molecule printers for CureVac’s Covid-19 vaccine

Musk describes the portable, automated mRNA production units as ‘RNA microfactories’. (File pic)

CALIFORNIA: Tesla Inc is building mobile molecule printers to help make the potential Covid-19 vaccine being developed by CureVac in Germany, the electric-car maker’s CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Wednesday.

CureVac, an unlisted German company, has said it is developing portable, automated mRNA production units that it calls printers and which Musk described as “RNA microfactories”.

They are being designed to be shipped to remote locations, where they can churn out its vaccine candidate and other mRNA-based therapies depending on the recipe fed into the machine.

But for the immediate pandemic use – should its vaccine candidate win market approval – it has production sites with regulatory approval in Germany with a capacity to produce hundreds of millions of doses.

The company, based in Tuebingen and backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a pioneer of the so-called messenger RNA approach, which is also pursued by BioNTech and its partner Pfizer as well as Moderna.

A spokesman for CureVac confirmed it was working with Tesla’s Grohmann Automation unit on an exclusive printer prototype.

RNA molecules are single-stranded versions of the DNA double-helix. Thanks to their recurring molecular pattern, they can be produced in a relatively simple biochemical process that do not require genetically modified living cells, which are needed to produce most other biotech drugs.

CureVac is also building a new stationary site that could increase its output tenfold to billions of doses.

The “microfactories” would be built at Tesla Grohmann Automation in Germany, Musk said in a Twitter thread late on Wednesday night.

Tesla acquired the company that develops automated manufacturing systems for batteries and fuel cells in 2016 to expand its production.

Musk did not elaborate on his plans. Tesla was not immediately available to comment.

Musk, who is known for making impromptu announcements on Twitter, said in March that Tesla had extra FDA-approved ventilators that could be shipped free of cost to hospitals within regions where the electric-car maker delivers.