Vaccination represents one of the most effective public health measures for protecting at risk populations from emerging pathogens. However, FDA approved vaccines are lacking for the vast majority of emerging pathogens, and therefore new vaccines and vaccination strategies are needed to protect susceptible populations from viruses such as MERS-CoV, Ebola virus (EBOV), chikungunya virus (CHIKV) and Zika virus (ZIKV). Adjuvants represent an essential component of modern vaccinology, since recombinant protein or virus like particle (VLP) based vaccines are poorly immunogenic in the absence of adjuvant-mediated innate immune stimulation. In fact, a growing body of evidence suggests that combinations of adjuvants that stimulate multiple innate immune pathways are capable of eliciting broadly protective, long-lived immune responses similar to those stimulated by natural infections. However, to date, only a small number of adjuvants have been approved for human use, and we have a poor understanding of their mechanisms of action or the host susceptibility alleles that regulate their performance. This lack of knowledge impedes our ability to develop new adjuvants, while also limiting our capacity to rationally combine different adjuvants to develop broadly protective vaccine formulations. Furthermore, since the innate immune pathways targeted by both FDA approved and experimental adjuvants are highly polymorphic, it is likely that host genetic variation will significantly impact both the efficacy and safety of individual adjuvants across diverse populations. Therefore, the development of safe and effective adjuvants and vaccine formulations requires an understanding of how specific adjuvants/vaccines perform in diverse populations. Importantly, we can also take advantage of this diversity in responses to identify the polymorphic genes and genetic networks that regulate the response to specific adjuvants, and then use that information to rationally select adjuvant combinations designed to safely elicit durably protective immunity in at risk populations. Therefore, our Program, which takes advantage of our research team?s expertise in adjuvant development, vaccinology, and complex trait genetics, proposes to use advanced Systems Vaccinology and Genetics approaches to define the polymorphic genes/gene networks that regulate the response to specific adjuvants. We will then use this information to identify specific adjuvants or adjuvant combinations that will elicit protective immunity in populations who are at increased risk of vaccine failure. This program will results in several high impact deliverables, including: 1) broadly efficacious pre-IND vaccines for several high consequence emerging pathogens, including EBOV, influenza, MERS-CoV, and ZIKV, 2) novel adjuvant formulations that are designed to safely elicit durable protective immunity in genetically diverse populations, including individuals who are at risk of vaccine failure 3) improved animal models for testing vaccine safety and efficacy, and 4) general knowledge of adjuvant immune regulatory genes that will inform the development of new adjuvants with novel mechanisms of action and improved efficacy/safety profiles.

Public Health Relevance

Vaccination is one of the most effective public health measures for protecting against infectious disease, and the proposed studies will identify adjuvants and adjuvant combinations that safely elicit long lived protective immunity against emerging pathogens in at risk populations.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project--Cooperative Agreements (U01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZAI1)
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Stemmy, Erik J
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University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Public Health & Prev Medicine
Schools of Public Health
Chapel Hill
United States
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