Projects

MicroCube Technology Vaccine Platform – collaboration with Monash University

(Image: Researchers plan to establish whether these MicroCubes are a potent and ultra-stable way to deliver vaccines.)

Dr Rose Ffrench said researchers are using the properties of the crystals to stimulate the immune system to recognise foreign antigens and make the right response.

The vaccine research is being undertaken in collaboration with Dr Fasseli Coulibaly from Monash University and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr Ffrench said the protein crystals excreted by the infected insects formed a hard shell that protected the virus from dehydrating.

“You end up with a crystal that’s got the HIV protein embedded within it, which we call the HIV MicroCube vaccine,” she said.

The result is a vaccine candidate that is very stable at high temperatures, which may make it useful in the developing world.

“You could leave it on the bench for weeks and it won’t get degraded,“ she said.

This also suggests that it may release the HIV protein into the immune system very slowly, which is likely to give stronger and longer lasting responses.

“It’s quite exciting because normally you would get an antibody response but you wouldn’t get much of a T-cell response. We think it’s quite a promising strategy, but it’s very early stages yet."

Groups at Monash University, led by Dr Fasseli Coulibaly, have engineered MicroCubes to incorporate antigens of interest in place of the virus particles, thereby exploiting their remarkable robustness and multivalent presentation of antigens. Importantly, their capacity to accommodate cargoes of different sizes and natures is unique and vastly superior to that of traditional virus-like particles.

Recent murine immunisation studies in collaboration with Dr Ffrench showed no toxic effect of MicroCubes and demonstrated that HIV Gag MicroCubes induce robust Gag-specific humoral and cellular responses.

Phase II

“To assess the suitability of MicroCubes as a novel vaccine platform, we will work on producing a flu MicroCube vaccine and compare it to existing vaccines. Given the fantastic tools available for research on influenza virus, it will then be easy to translate preclinical studies to knowing what is going to happen in humans,” Dr Coulibaly said.

“Together with my collaborators we’re hoping to establish in this Phase II project, that MicroCubes have unique properties that also warrant their development as a vaccine vector targeting infectious diseases with the highest burden in developing countries: malaria, TB and HIV.”

Dr Ffrench, Dr Coulibaly and Professor Brown have found the MicroCubes to be very safe so far and they also generate very strong immune responses.

“Development of new vaccine strategies like these relies very heavily on the generous support on benefactors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” Dr Ffrench said.

Collaborators

Monash University

Funding

In 2013, the project received Phase II funding through Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to solve the problems people in the developing world face every day. Phase II recognises those ideas that have made significant progress toward implementation.

From 2009 to 2012, Dr Coulibaly and Dr Ffrench were awarded two Phase I grants.

Phase I recognises individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges.

Health Issue

Contact Details

For any general enquiries relating to this project, please contact:

Associate Professor Rose Ffrench

Principal Fellow, Head of Viral Immunology Laboratory

Telephone

+61392822285

Email

rose.ffrench@burnet.edu.au