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Nov 13, 2014
 |  BC Innovations  |  Cover Story

Boosting adjuvants

For all the talk of new vaccines, not much attention has been paid to the need for better adjuvants, which have remained stuck on alum-based products for decades. The NIH is committing up to $70 million over the next 5 years to new adjuvant research and wants to prod industry to pick up the mantle and develop a diverse portfolio of agents. But it will need to persuade companies that in the long run, pooling their knowledge will be commercially worthwhile.

The NIH's goal is to have a toolbox of adjuvants that can boost vaccine efficacy, increase response rates in the elderly and extend the supply of critical vaccines for public health. Adjuvants increase the magnitude and duration of vaccine-induced protective immunity by stimulating aspects of the immune system-such as the innate response-that have evolved to respond to infections.

Historically, companies have lacked an incentive to develop adjuvants as products in and of themselves because the returns were so poor. Instead, they have generally developed antigens and adjuvants together within specific vaccine programs.

Novartis AG spokesperson Elizabeth Power told SciBX, "At Novartis, we do not develop adjuvants separately from antigens but rather consider the precise combination of the proper antigens and adjuvant targeting a specific disease. Then, the value of the vaccine can be demonstrated through overall safety and efficacy."

In other cases, when companies do develop proprietary adjuvants, they tend to retain them within their internal programs and rarely license them out.

The NIH is trying to bring pharma back to the table in adjuvant discovery because of the huge unmet need for vaccines in developing-world diseases. One argument put forward is that more effective adjuvants could make vaccines for developed markets more profitable as they would lower the dose of antigen needed to induce immunity and make the vaccine cheaper to produce in large amounts.

Wolfgang Leitner told SciBX, "We want a pipeline of novel adjuvants, and we want adjuvants that give you dose sparing and that improve efficacy of the vaccine but without increasing the toxicity or adverse events." Leitner is a program officer at the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and is the contracting officer's representative for adjuvant discovery contracts.

The NIH is awarding the money to researchers for seven projects at two companies-Vaxine Pty. Ltd. and GlaxoSmithKline plc-and five universities or hospitals (see "Adjuvant discovery contracts").

The funding represents the third tranche from the institute for adjuvant development since 2003. It is also part of a strategy to increase vaccine efficacy, particularly in vulnerable subpopulations in which vaccine-based immunization is needed most.

In 2004, the NIH awarded close to $50 million to 1 university and

4 companies-including Corixa Corp., now part of GSK. In 2008, the NIH awarded contracts totaling over $57 million to 5 academic institutions and GSK.

Whereas the first two funding rounds focused on compounds that...

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