By Esther Nakkazi
Researchers have developed a new type of vaccine technology that does not require a cold storage chain for the vaccine for mosquito-borne virus Chikungunya. The technology allows the vaccine to be stored at warmer temperatures, removing the need for refrigeration.
Chikungunya, a virus transmitted by the bite of an infected mosquito causes crippling headache, vomiting, swelling of limbs and can lead to death. Even if a fever ends abruptly, chronic symptoms such as intense joint pain, insomnia, and extreme prostration remain.
The findings, published in Science Advances, reveal exceptionally promising results for the Chikungunya vaccine candidate, which has been engineered using a synthetic protein scaffold that could revolutionize the way vaccines are designed, produced and stored.
Formerly confined to sub-Saharan Africa, Chikungunya has recently spread worldwide as its mosquito host leaves its natural habitat due to deforestation and climate change, with recent outbreaks in USA and Europe causing alarm.
Researchers from the University of Bristol and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Grenoble, France, teamed up with computer technology giant Oracle to find a way to make vaccines that are thermostable (able to withstand warm temperatures), can be designed quickly and are easily produced.
Pascal Fender, an expert virologist at CNRS said they were working with a protein that forms a multimeric particle resembling a virus but is completely safe, because it has no genetic material inside and completely by chance they discovered that this particle was stable even after months, without refrigeration.
“This particle has a very flexible, exposed surface that can be easily engineered, added Imre Berger, Director of the Max Planck-Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology in Bristol. “We figured that we could insert small, harmless bits of Chikungunya to generate a virus-like mimic we could potentially use as a vaccine.”
To validate their design, the scientists employed cryo-electron microscopy, a powerful new technique recently installed in Bristol’s state-of-the-art microscopy facility headed by Christiane Schaffitzel, co-author of the study.
Cryo-EM yields very large data sets from which the structure of a sample can be determined at near-atomic resolution, requiring massive parallel computing.
Enabled by Oracle’s high-performance cloud infrastructure, the team developed a novel computational approach to create an accurate digital model of the synthetic vaccine.
“We were able to process the large data sets obtained by the microscope on the cloud in a fraction of the time and at a much lower cost than previously thought possible,” said Woods.
“Going forward, technologies like machine learning and cloud computing will play a significant part in the scientific world, and we are delighted we could help the researchers with this important discovery,” added Phil Bates, leading cloud architect at Oracle.
The particles the scientists designed yielded exceptionally promising results in animal studies, soundly setting the stage for a future vaccine to combat Chikungunya disease.
Berger explained that the vaccine candidate is easy to manufacture, extremely stable and elicits a powerful immune response. “It can be stored and transported without refrigeration to countries and patients where it is most needed. Intriguingly, we can now rapidly engineer similar vaccines to combat many other infectious diseases just as well.”
“It really ticks a lot of boxes,” concluded Fred Garzoni, founder of Imophoron Ltd, a Bristol biotech start-up developing new vaccines derived from the present work.
“Many challenges in the industry require innovative solutions, to bring powerful new vaccines to patients. Matching cutting-edge synthetic biology with cloud computing turned out to be a winner.”
‘Synthetic self-assembling ADDomer platform for highly efficient vaccination by genetically-encoded multi-epitope display’ byVragniau et al in Science Advances