Scientists Develop Adjustable Vaccine Platform to Encounter Epidemics

Scientists Develop Adjustable Vaccine Platform to Encounter Epidemics

Wednesday, 12 December, 2018 - 09:00
An illustration of a double-stranded DNA molecule, known as a double helix (AFP Photo/HO)
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
A global coalition set up to fight disease epidemics is investing up to $8.4 million to develop a synthetic vaccine system that could be tailor-made to fight multiple pathogens such as flu, Ebola, and Rabies.

The deal, between the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and a team of scientists at Britain’s Imperial College London is aimed at developing a “vaccine platform” which uses synthetic self-amplifying RNA, the genome in a sequence of viruses that allows it to reproduce, and enhance its capabilities, as part of a process known as "saRNA."

A vaccine platform is a system that uses the same basic components as a backbone or framework, and can be adapted to immunize against different diseases by inserting new genetic sequences from the targeted disease.

Robin Shattock, who leads the Imperial team developing the system, known as RapidVac, said: "This platform could be very transformative. It would change the way people view how to make vaccines." He also said there are several years of research and testing ahead, but hopes the technology could one day lead to rapid production of “single shot” vaccines against an emerging epidemic, or of a cocktail of vaccines against several different infectious diseases.

The thinking behind the saRNA approach is to harness the body’s own cell machinery to make an antigen; in other words a foreign substance that induces an immune response rather than injecting the antigen itself directly into the body.

Shattock said in a telephone interview: "The other advantage is that it’s very rapid to manufacture because it’s a synthetic process." Infectious disease epidemics such as Ebola outbreaks in Africa or Zika spreading from Brazil are sporadic, unpredictable and fast-moving.

Yet developing vaccines to combat them can currently take up to 10 years or more.

CEPI, which was set up at the start of 2017, aims to dramatically speed up the development of vaccines against new and unknown diseases.

The coalition and scientists aim to start safety trials in animal models in the lab early in 2019 and move to early-stage clinical trials in humans within two years.

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