As a Valentine’s day gift to women at risk of Zika everywhere, we’re providing access to our initial analysis of Zika and our opinion on Zika vaccine design. 

If you just want access to the slides, here they are: http://bit.ly/Zika_Slides_EpiVax_2016

What’s the key point of this post? We think that it’s won’t be so easy to make an effective Zika vaccine. Rushing into vaccine development is not necessarily the best idea. Are we just ‘checking the box’? In the case of H7N9, that’s what vaccine developers did. The result? An ineffective vaccine. We ask: Are we making vaccines that work, or are we simply making vaccines? 

Here’s the deal. Zika is a Flavivirus. Do we have an effective West Nile Virus vaccine? (same family of viruses). Nope. Do we have a Hepatitis C vaccine? Nope. Do we have an effective Dengue vaccine? Just barely. Yellow Fever? Yes. So, what can we learn from these other Flaviviruses about making a new vaccine? A lot! Should we pause, and consider our approach, especially when we get results like the ones shown in the image in this post? Yes, we believe so. Computational screening using the iVAX toolkit reveals that the Zika envelope protein has few T cell epitopes. Computational vaccinology can really help out here. And we’ve shown that to be true

Here’s our Valentine’s day slideset on Zika vaccine design: EpiVax_Valentine’s Day_ZikaVirus__14Feb16

Zika Virus 2016

Influenza is an example that’s closer to home than Zika, at least for the time being. Every time we produce a new influenza vaccine, millions of doses are purchased and distributed by the government. Dutifully, we put the vaccines in our arms and in the arms of our patients. But, when the results come in: efficacy is as low as  18%. Is that truly a vaccine? Or are we just going through the motions.

How does EpiVax predict immunogenicity in advance? Well, let’s take a sneak a peak at Avian flu, a pathogen that has much higher (40%) potential mortality. Using computational vaccinology, we predicted that H7 HA would be poorly immunogenic – see our publication here, and a follow up also published. Well isn’t that interesting: the prediction was correct (see the image above for our prediction and the results). Unadjuvanted, H7N9 HA was the worst flu vaccine ever made with 6% seroconversion rates. Even when adjuvanted, the currently available H7N9 vaccines only resulted in 59% seroconversion (compare that above to the 89% seroconversion after administration of un-adjuvanted H1N1 pandemic flu vaccine). And that’s under clinical trial conditions. Imagine how effective it will be under field conditions.

What are we saying? We think that it’s not good enough to simply make vaccines. We should be making vaccines better. As is illustrated by Zika, we don’t know which pathogen will jump to humans. However, since it appears we must prepare for biothreats, why not make such vaccines faster, and better, when you have an opportunity? 

Well, if you are in the business of making money to produce vaccines, instead of being in the business of making better vaccines (it’s different), your business can help the US government ‘check the box’ on a  an emerging infectious disease (Zika) need. Now while that may be a great business model, we ask, is that how you want your tax dollars spent?

We have been talking about how making Vaccines on Demand – a concept pioneered by the team at EpiVax – would eliminate the need to buy vaccines for stockpiles and build resiliency. And using computational vaccinology, we can engineer vaccines to be more effective.

Meanwhile, in case you were wondering, we are very much interested in helping Pharma partners and academic researchers to make better vaccines  – whether for neglected tropical diseases (contact us at www.immunome.org to find out more), or for commercial partners. While we’re at it, we plan to continue other good work and support projects to prevent diseaseAfter all, it’s better to prevent than to cure.