The team has worked closely with Professor Sho Yamasaki from Japan—one of the world’s foremost experts in immunology—and Dr Neil Wedlock’s team at AgResearch in New Zealand to ensure the technology meets animal health industry needs.
In the past, vaccines primarily relied on the use of weakened or killed pathogens to help the body produce a strong protective immune response. However, most of today’s more sophisticated vaccines include only small components of the pathogens, so additives referred to as adjuvants are used to enhance and moderate the intensity and type of immune response to a vaccine.
Despite the success of currently approved adjuvants for generating immunity to viral and bacterial infections, there is a need for new, more targeted solutions that work better and last longer.
Victoria University of Wellington researchers and associate professors Dr Bridget Stocker and Dr Mattie Timmer have invented a new class of adjuvant that can be tailored to target and induce the exact immune response needed to control a specific pathogen, enabling vaccines to offer stronger protection against disease over longer periods.
Their discovery involves activating the immune cell receptor known as Mincle—an important player in both innate and adaptive immune responses—to drive a cellular immune response while also stimulating protective antibodies.
While the potential for their work could include adjuvants for vaccinations against a wide range of human diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, strep throat and bowel cancer, the first commercial application of the team’s discovery involves developing adjuvants for vaccines against sheep pneumonia.
Image credit: Linda Palmer
Features and benefits
Reduced need for antibiotics
The creation of a more targeted and effective immunostimulant leads to a more effective vaccination programme and, ultimately, the reduction or elimination of antibiotics from the food-chain.
Because these novel adjuvants increase the potency of vaccines, smaller amounts of antigen are required in their manufacture, leading to significant cost savings—and better health outcomes, due to fewer complications or adverse reactions.
The adjuvants are being tested in a vaccine designed to prevent sheep pneumonia, with the first two stages successfully completed and showing promising results. The involvement of AgResearch has accelerated this project, allowing the team to generate strong data around the efficacy of the vaccine in large animals.
Concurrently, the team is collaborating with experts on a range of human diseases—including bowel cancer—to gain preliminary information on the potential of the adjuvants in vaccines for these diseases, an important first step towards proving their efficacy in humans.
The researchers are also working with their overseas collaborators to explore the effect of their adjuvant in vaccines for new pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2—the pathogen that causes COVID-19.
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