Development of a Combined Influenza/SARS Vaccine
The spontaneous appearance of SARS in humans in 2003 and the regular yearly appearance of influenza provoke an obvious question: could it be possible to produce a single vaccine that protects against both diseases?
A project led by an Austrian SME aims to do exactly this. Green Hills Biotechnology is well acquainted with influenza: it currently has several products in development based on genetically modified versions of the virus.
The company is now using its expertise in viral engineering to develop a combined SARS/flu vaccine. It has teamed up with three other SMEs (in Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia) which have added their expertise in antigen identification, preclinical testing and protein purification. The project also includes two renowned university research institutions that bring additional expertise in virology and immunology.
In 2002, an atypical pneumonia, characterised by progressive respiratory failure, emerged in the Guangdong Province in Southern China. The causative agent was rapidly identified as a new coronavirus which was designated as severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated virus SARS-CoV. The disease swept rapidly to neighbouring regions and led to several cases even in Toronto, Canada. By the end of the epidemic in July 2003, about 8 000 SARS cases and almost 800 deaths due to SARS had been recorded worldwide. Since then, the world is in an inter-epidemic period, as no new cases were reported.[+] Read More
The project uses Green Hills' engineered influenza virus as its starting point. This modified virus is unable to replicate, but still expresses immunogenic influenza proteins on its surface. The sequences for relevant antigens are identified by bioinformatic methods and were verified by immunological methods. Promising antigens from the SARS-associated coronavirus will be expressed by the influenza vector so that it expresses SARS proteins too. Several constructs are tested for immunogenicity: the one that provokes the best immune response without compromising safety in animal testing is selected for a full preclinical testing programme.
The particular properties of the modified influenza virus - apathogenicity due to abortive replication while being highly immunogenic due to its IFN-inducing properties - make it not only attractive as a safe live attenuated vaccine against influenza virus but also an attractive candidate as a vector for the expression of antigens of foreign pathogens such as the SARS-CoV. Such a SARS/flu vaccine as developed in this project has the major advantage that it has the potential to induce protective immune responses against SARS-CoV and influenza virus with one immunisation.
The vaccine developed in this project will be a major step towards an immunisation concept against SARS-CoV and influenza virus with one immunisation. The technologies that are used in this project will have the potential to be applied to other relevant pathogens as well.