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08/13/2020

How a side project grew into a tool that's helping in the fight against COVID-19

When three 3M scientists started work on a small biopharmaceutical filtration project in the 1990s, they had no idea their effort would become a part of today’s fight against COVID-19.

That resulting product line – the 3M™ Emphaze™ AEX Hybrid Purifier – uses a unique filter material that captures impurities while allowing the necessary drug substances to pass through. This technology combines two processes into a single step, which can help researchers obtain their final product more efficiently and in greater amounts.

These 3M products are now being used by researchers and pharmaceutical companies to pursue therapies and vaccines to treat and protect against COVID-19. 

“Our products are used by our customers to make treatments and it is especially gratifying to know the science of 3M's solutions can now help with the COVID-19 treatments,” said Jonathan Hester, a research scientist in 3M’s Global Biopharmaceutical Purification business. “It’s great to work on materials that have that impact.”

Addressing all angles of the pandemic

When faced with a global challenge like COVID-19, 3M’s responses include accelerating production of N95 respirators, partnering with other companies on innovative solutions and donating tens of millions of dollars to support a range of non-profit organizations who are working to meet the needs of communities around the world. The long-term answer to the pandemic, however, such as a vaccine or vital therapy, could include 3M products as a critical component in the filtration process used to develop and produce these drugs. 

Today’s vaccines are often manufactured by cells and are a form of biologically derived medicines generally described as “biologics.” A complication of using cells in the making of drugs is that the cells must be separated at the end of the process from the drugs that they made. Additionally, during the process of making biologics, these cells release by-products that must be removed from the resulting pharmaceuticals. This is where 3M’s biopharmaceutical purification and filtration products – including those that started in the 1990s as a technological side project by Dr. Jerald Rasmussen, Clint Waller and Dr. Doug Weiss, and later joined by Jonathan and 3M scientists Dr. Dan O’Neal and Dr. John Schmidt to turn it into purification products – come into play.

In addition to helping in the fight against COVID-19, these 3M products are also used globally to manufacture life-saving medications used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and types of cancer such as lung cancer, lymphoma and myeloma.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to jump in quickly to respond to this new and critical need for treatments and vaccines,” said Jonathan. “We didn’t anticipate COVID-19, but it’s great to see our teams’ work to build our scientific understanding and research on biological processes be used to help fight this fight.”

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