Grant creates international partnership, development of low-cost vaccine

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University College London (UCL) have received a $17.6 million Grand Challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) to develop and produce a low-cost vaccine manufacturing platform for use in developing countries.

Vaccines save the lives of 2 to 3 million people annually and an additional 1.5 million deaths could be prevented with improvements in global vaccination coverage, according to the World Health Organization. However, nearly one in five children worldwide are still missing routine vaccinations for preventable diseases. But the solution is not as simple as producing more vaccines in the same way, according to KU School of Pharmacy Distinguished Professor David Volkin, lead investigator for the work at KU.

“To make vaccines more affordable and available, new manufacturing approaches are needed. A key part of this effort is to ensure that vaccines remain stable during manufacturing, storage, transport and administration to people in the developing world,” he said.

Through the project, Ultra-low Cost Transferable Automated (ULTRA) Platform for Vaccine Manufacture, the KU, MIT and UCL researchers are collaborating to standardize the development of new recombinant protein vaccines and produce them for less than 15 cents a dose. This grant provides funding to demonstrate applicability of the new manufacturing platform with two different vaccine candidates that will target diseases like hepatitis B, HIV, human papillomavirus, malaria and rotavirus. The KU team will be led by Volkin in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Sangeeta Joshi, director of the Macromolecule and Vaccine Stabilization Center (MVSC). They will work with academic partners led by Professor J. Christopher Love at MIT’s Koch Institute and Tarit Mukhopadhyay of the UCL Biochemical Engineering Department. If their approach is successful, vaccine supplies for phase one human clinical trials will be produced by the end of the five-year grant.

Along with their KU team of experienced MVSC staff, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, they will analyze and formulate several vaccine candidates from this project so that the final vaccines are not only produced at low cost but also remain stable to ensure their potency during production and storage as well as distribution in the developing world.

"It’s an honor to be a part of this team of world-class academic researchers and to take on this grand challenge,” Volkin said. “Affordable and stable vaccines are a crucial element of disease prevention around the world. Delivered effectively, they save lives and can improve the health of entire populations.”

Volkin and Joshi are leading KU teams on three more BMGF grants totaling nearly $5 million over several years:

•  The first award is to work collaboratively with several different vaccine development partners to address analytical and formulation challenges encountered with their new vaccine candidates.

•  The second is a collaboration with the research and development organization Batavia Biosciences in the Netherlands and BioFarma, a leading manufacturer of vaccines in Indonesia, to develop a new rotavirus vaccine for use in the developing world.

•  The third is with the Australian company Vaxxas to work with several currently available vaccines for use with the Nanopatch, a device that enables needle-free vaccination by delivering antigens directly to the skin.  This work includes vaccines for polio (in conjunction with the World Health Organization), and for measles and rubella.

“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made it a priority to increase the availability of vaccines worldwide,” Joshi said. “The grants they provide allow researchers from academic institutions and private industry to work together, each doing what they do best, to find solutions and deliver affordable and effective vaccines to the people who need them.”

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