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An Update on EpiVax’ H7N9 “FastVax” Progress

EpiVax scientists are currently in discussions with groups in China, Canada and the US about producing a vaccine. Here we highlight a few key points about the current progress of EpiVax’ FastVax vaccine design:

(1) While H7N9 influenza may be mutable, selecting highly conserved and immunogenic components for vaccines is our expertise. Some aspects of the genome may not be conserved, and are ‘extra information’. Basically, all living organisms have to have some key regions of their genome that enable them to survive. A simple analogy: people need their thumbs. They can change their hair color, but they can’t live without their thumbs (it makes us human). Or, you could say, we’re going to make a vaccine that includes thumb-like, immutable but very immunogenic components. These components are called epitopes.

(2) That said, the sequence of H7N9 indicates that it will be hard to design a vaccine for this virus using traditional methods (based on HA). Our in-house experts, using our immunogenicity screening tools, have predicted that HA will be a poor immunogen. Compared to H1 and H3 (two of the current circulating strains of influenza), H3 hemagglutinin (HA), has far fewer T cell epitopes. See figure below for a comparison of the three influenza HA’s.

This graphic shows an EpiMatrix analysis of flu HA (H1, H3, H7). The blue bars represent T cell epitopes; the darker the bar, the stronger the epitope. A larger quantity of bars correlates with higher immunogenicity of the proteins.

This graphic shows an EpiMatrix analysis of flu HA (H1, H3, H7). The blue bars represent T cell epitopes; the darker the bar, the stronger the epitope. A larger quantity of bars correlates with higher immunogenicity of the proteins. More Info.

(3) We suspect that the lack of T cell epitopes in the HA protein of H7N9 will reduce effective antibody response. It takes T-help to make high titer, high affinity IgG antibodies. Lack of good T cell epitopes, and (as shown above) very poor conservation of T helper epitopes in H7 as compared to H3 and H1, suggests that making a vaccine based on HA alone might not be the best approach.

In the figure above, we have provided a very preliminary snapshot of our influenza HA protein immunogenicity analysis, comparing recent strains of circulating H1 virus HA protein with that of H3, and emergent H7 for T cell epitope content. Note that – not only do the epitopes not align, but there are far fewer in H7, suggesting very low immunogenicity of HA.

For more information on EpiVax Immunogenicity Screening for Vaccines and Protein Therapeutics – see the following links: Vaccine design and protein therapeutics. For our publications on vaccine research, see here. For information about our academic collaboration with the Institute for Immunology and Informatics, click here. For a list of our scientific collaborators, click here.

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For blogs that we follow and links to flu-relevant publications, see below:

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