Alta van Zyl, Virology Group, Molecular & Cell Biology Department, UCT
Haemagglutinin-only Influenza A virus VLP. Courtesy of Russell Kightley Media
The new international conference on virus-like particles and nano-particles (VLPNPV) took place in Cannes, France at The Novotel Montfleury Hotel from the 28th to the 30th of November 2012. The scope of the conference included virus-like particles (VLPs), the plant-based expression of VLP vaccines as well as expression and optimisation of VLPs.
Other topics included in the conference were:
- VLP platform delivery systems
- VLP vaccines
- Nano-particles and nano-particulate vaccines
A multitude of topics were covered during the conference and many of the talks pertained to the immunogenicity of the VLPs and nano-particles and how they compared with the immunogenicity of DNA or subunit vaccines.
Talks were given by researchers from companies such as Medicago, Mucosis, Pevion Vaccines and Novavax. These talks gave a perspective on factors that need to be considered when commercialising VLP/nano-particle vaccines and to be GMP compliant.
Developing plant-made virus-like particle vaccine products: An integrated platform from discovery to commercial scale
Marc-Andre D’Aoust, Nathalie Landry, Sonia Trepanier, Michele Dargis, Manon Couture and Louis-Philippe Vezina (Medicago, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada)
This talk was about a plant-made VLP against both pandemic and seasonal influenza- these vaccines are now in the clinical trial phase. What was especially interesting was the view from an industry point of view where expression had to be scaled up to produce large amounts of vaccine. The Medicago platform can synthesize and clone approximately 100 gene constructs in two weeks, they can prepare 100 bacterial cultures per week and they have automated infiltration where 200 plant transformations can be performed per day and 150 VLP engineering approaches can be tested in one week. For influenza Medicago tested 48 different infiltration approaches in one day for HA, NA, M1, M2 as well as P1 Gag and HGalT. Medicago has been able to produce 10 million doses of HA VLPs in just one month.
- D’Aoust et al (2010) PBJ 8: 607-619 – The production of hemagglutinin-based virus-like particles in plants: a rapid, efficient and safe response to pandemic influenza.
Development of RNA-free plant VLPs a source of novel therapeutics
George Lomonossoff (John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK)
This group made empty Cowpea Mosaic Virus (CPMV) VLPs that contained no RNA. CPMV VLPs are versatile nanoparticles to which organic, inorganic and biological molecules can be bound. The empty nature of the particle means that they can be used as carrier molecules for therapies; this could prove to be potentially useful as a cancer-treatment therapy. The system is advantageous because of the lack of RNA which makes the particles non-infectious and no bio-containment is needed for the production of these VLPs.
Immunogenicity of VLPs: an immunological perspective
Martin Bachmann (University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)
Background was given from immunological point of view about what makes VLPs so immunogenic. Three properties contribute to the immunological properties of VLPs (1) their size, (2) the repetitiveness of the particle capsid which provides multiple sites for antibody binding and (3) TLR ligands – the particle can be disassembled, the RNA removed and replaced with a TLR ligand to enhance immunogenicity. Also, the size of VLPs is optimal for drainage to the lymph nodes.
Immunogenicity optimization strategies for public-sector development of vaccines: the critical role of optimizing the antigen.
Martin Howell Friede (WHO, Geneva, Switzerland)
This talk was about looking at VLPs from the vaccine development view. Monomeric antigens are not very immunogenic; therefore adjuvants were developed and came into use. For an efficient vaccine the antigen must be multimeric as antigen alone is insufficient to be immunogenic without adjuvant. Two factors have to be considered when producing a vaccine for FDA approval; (1) optimise the antigen before using an adjuvant, (2) use an adjuvant that has already been approved by the FDA. VLPs as vaccines provide the potential for immune-stimulation without the addition of adjuvant as the multimeric presentation of the antigen will enhance its immunogenicity.
Enhancing the immunogenicity of VLP vaccines
Richard W. Compans (Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)
This talk highlighted strategies which could be used to enhance the immunogenicity of VLPs.
- Look at alternate routes for vaccine delivery (intranasal, intramuscular, subcutaneous etc)
- Increase the breadth of immunity by enhancing responses to conserved antigens/epitopes
- Increase the amount of antigen incorporated into VLPs
- Incorporate the adjuvant into the VLPs as part of the structure
- Ye et al (2011) PLoS One 6(5): e14813
- Wang et al (2008) J Virol
Innate and adaptive responses to plant-made VLP vaccines
Brian Ward (McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
Brain Ward is also the medical officer at Medicago. Humans rarely react to plant proteins/antigens. The plant glycans fucose/xylose at the N-terminal is an allergen and can cause anaphylaxis in humans. During trial experiments with influenza no individuals developed IgE responses to plant glycans, therefore plant produced vaccine is safe. The H1 VLP induced long lasting memory multifunctional T-cell responses in humans.
Impressions of the conference:
The conference was well organised with leaders in the field presenting their work. Interaction with the delegates aid in building crucial networking opportunities and work relationships. The international arena is packed with new technology development allowing us the opportunity to learn and improve our own understanding of various concepts.
This conference proved to be an invaluable learning experience and I thank the NRF for this opportunity and for providing me with the funding to attend this conference. The exposure to conferences, especially those in the international arena, aid in the development of students and contribute to the quality of research that is conducted at UCT.
1. VLPNPV website
2. Personal notes taken at the conference