Self-Amplifying RNA Vaccine Platform Could Speed Response

The scientists plan to use their “RapidVac” platform to produce vaccines against influenza (H1N1), Rabies virus, and Marburg virus. ( Pirbright Institute )

A coalition of scientists with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Imperial College London aim to develop a synthetic self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) platform that could enable rapid vaccine production in response to an outbreak of infectious disease.

The saRNA approach, according to CEPI, can harness the body’s own cell machinery to produce an antigen, rather than injecting the antigen directly. This platform, the researchers say, could produce a vaccine for clinical trials within about 16 weeks, compared with up to 10 years for research, discovery, pre-clinical testing, clinical testing, and regulatory approval for conventional vaccines. This could dramatically improve response time to emergence of new or unknown pathogens.

The saRNA also potentially enables production of effective “single-shot” vaccines that provide rapid immune response with one dose, and “cocktail” vaccines that stimulate an immune response against multiple pathogens.

The scientists plan to use their “RapidVac” platform to produce vaccines against influenza (H1N1), Rabies virus, and Marburg virus, and subsequently move these products forward to phase-1 clinical testing in humans.

The researchers note that RNA vaccines use the body’s own machinery to make antigenic protein rather than injecting the antigen directly into the body. In saRNA vaccines, the RNA from a particular group of viruses is adapted in a way that allows only the genetic sequence for a specific antigen to be expressed, while keeping the part of the RNA that allows it to produce multiple copies of itself. This can allow using a smaller dose of RNA while increasing the effectiveness of the vaccine.

The two institutions have announced a partnering agreement worth up to $8.4 million to develop the process.

Principal Investigator Robin Shattock, Chair in Mucosal Infection and Immunity at Imperial College, says “We believe that synthetic self-amplifying RNA based vaccines offer the best opportunity for a ‘just in time’ response to infectious outbreaks, providing the needed technological shift to aggressively redefine the timelines for vaccine production. We are delighted to partner with CEPI in realizing the promise of this new platform”.

Read more from CEPI.

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