Within the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, efforts are underway to accelerate the development of vaccines aimed at protecting populations from global health threats.
In one area of research, Mark Poznasky, MD, PhD, Director of the Center, led a multi-center investigation to decode the genomic sequence of Lassa, a virus that causes hemorrhagic fever in humans. After receiving the virus’ genomic sequence by email, Dr. Poznasky and team first decoded the digital sequence—determining the virus’ full set of proteins—then used bioinformatics tools to home in on specific antigens that could be used to trigger the immune system. The team identified specific antigens and their proteins, called epitopes, most likely to be engaged by the immune system in an effort to create a rationally designed vaccine—one that more selectively delivers virus-mimicking proteins than traditional vaccines. Such rationally designed vaccines are safer and faster to manufacture since they don’t involve weakening infectious virus in an egg medium.
The researchers created a delivery method for the antigens via a mixture of injectable proteins, then tested the vaccine in human cells and animals using a newer analysis method, mass cytometry, to create data-driven visualizations of the immune response.
The project, called VaxCelerate II, has been licensed to a biotechnology company and could soon be available for patients in areas at high risk for Lassa. And its success in accelerating the vaccine development process—the Lassa vaccine candidate was developed in just 90 days—now stands as a model for rapid vaccine development to prevent other global outbreaks.
Read more in Proto.