System and Method to Rapidly Design Viral Vaccines to Prevent Vaccine Failure

Reference#: P03669

Seasonal influenza is a yearly public health risk, causing severe illness in hundreds of thousands of Americans, and millions of people worldwide, each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that seasonal influenza-associated deaths number in the thousands each year. Also of great concern is the shift of animal influenza strains to humans, such as H1N1 from swine in 2009 and H7N9 from poultry in 2013, which have the potential to cause many more deaths in a pandemic.

Influenza vaccines are a key tool to reduce illness severity and deaths. The annual influenza vaccine is produced by flu virus inoculation of chicken eggs. The production process requires a vast supply of eggs and takes several months to generate the required quantities. In addition to immunizing effectively against the predominant circulating human influenza virus strains, the vaccine virus must grow efficiently in eggs in order to be economically produced in time for the next flu season. This method of production poses two challenges. First, the current approach does not guarantee that the developed vaccine will be effective against the original human-circulating virus strain or any of its close relatives. The World Health Organization (WHO) has attributed the 20122013 vaccine failure to the adaptation of the virus to growth in avian (nonmammalian) egg cells during vaccine production, which changed the antibody-targeted surface proteins of the viruses. Second, to rapidly protect against an emerging avian or swine influenza virus, the selection of candidate vaccine strains is hindered by a limited supply of virus isolates from which to select broadly effective and efficiently produced egg-adapted strains.

To address these challenges, APL researchers developed a method using drop-based microfluidics technology to rapidly evolve a diverse collection of virus strains in avian cells and to select effective candidate vaccine viruses that maintain antigenic similarity to the original human virus. Further, this method rapidly screens for the most efficiently replicating viruses. Thus, this method not only prevents vaccine failure and speeds the development of emerging virus strains but also improves yields for more cost-effective production.

Patent Status: U.S. patents pending.

Ms. H. L. Curran
Phone: (443) 778-7262