A shot in the arm for vaccine research
New vaccines could be developed more quickly and be better targeted to specific age groups, thanks to EU-funded research. A five-year project has been studying novel immunisation technologies, boosting international efforts in vaccine research.
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Vaccination has had a huge impact on preventing diseases but there are still many illnesses for which no vaccine is available – such as HIV – or that need an urgent response – such as epidemic influenza strains.
To help scientists develop novel immunisation technologies, the ADITEC project is looking into exactly how vaccines work and how vaccination strategies and techniques can be improved. Specific results so far, such as novel immunisation technologies, adjuvants, vectors and delivery systems, optimised formulations and vaccination methods for different age groups, all come together in a toolbox enabling the best possible insight into fighting diseases.
The EU-funded project is contributing to possible international regulation and standards for these novel technologies. Along with regularly setting up and running European training programmes, ADITEC has also created synergies and cross-fertilisation between research areas that have the potential to fill existing gaps and advance this knowledge well into the future.
“This is a high-impact project,” says the project’s scientific coordinator, Donata Medaglini of Italy’s Università di Siena and the Sclavo Vaccines Association. “This unique joint effort addresses a wide range of crucial aspects of vaccination – from new technologies to clinical trials and public health.”
Project researchers have advanced knowledge about the mechanisms behind the immune response to vaccines and about how disease-causing microbes interact with hosts.
They have also investigated the role of host factors, such as age, gender and genetics, leading to greater understanding of the immune responses of infants and elderly to existing vaccines. This new knowledge could help scientists tailor vaccines to different age groups for better immunity, boosting the vaccinology field as a whole, explains Medaglini.
ADITEC has also tested a panel of vaccine components and delivery methods on volunteers. It had particular success in studying the role of adjuvants – molecules that strengthen and direct patients’ response to a vaccine.
Innovation and cooperation
One way ADITEC has made vaccine research more effective is by speeding up immunology research. The traditional approach progresses ideas in a direct line from lab to clinical trials. ADITEC studies the human immune response while at the same time designing and testing new technologies, with results from each research stream supporting the other. The project team studies possible components for new vaccines side by side to eliminate less promising candidates quickly and focus on the best ones.
Most of the project’s research has focused on influenza, tuberculosis and chlamydia, which represent different models of infection. Here, project participants in different labs used the same vaccine antigens. “This was a critical change,” says Medaglini. “It made it possible to make head-to-head comparisons and to find the best vaccination strategies.”
To fulfil its broad mission, the project consortium comprises 42 partners, including the World Health Organization, research institutes, companies, small and medium sized enterprises and non-profit organisations. “This type of collaboration has made a big difference and has certainly contributed to the EU’s efforts and international success in this field. No one could do this kind of science on their own,” says Medaglini.
Outside the consortium, the project provides SMEs and public health organisations with technical support for innovative projects and research, which it selects through open calls for research proposals.
The project team is keen to share its results more widely and has published over 157 articles in leading peer-reviewed scientific journals. Over the last four years, the project has also delivered 12 clinical studies and training to over 150 young scientists creating many job opportunities.
To protect discoveries for future research, consortium members have taken out four patents, with more in the pipeline. Longer-term plans include continuing to develop the toolbox, completing the clinical studies and analysing, through a system biology approach, the large amount of data produced.
“We are keen to find opportunities to develop our research further,” she says. “We have built something that is really working. New technologies, along with efficient management and governance, can effectively advance these innovations to the clinic and make a real difference for future health.”