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NIAID announces vaccine adjuvant discovery contracts

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded six new research contracts to discover and characterize novel adjuvants, substances that can be added to vaccines to enhance the protective immune response they induce.

"The goal of these awards is to find safe new adjuvants that will boost the effectiveness of vaccines," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. "Adjuvants can be used not only to enhance the immune response to a vaccine and thereby offer better protection but also to extend the vaccine supply if needed, enabling more people to be vaccinated with fewer doses."

Currently, the only vaccine adjuvant approved for use in the United States is an aluminum mixture known as alum.

NIAID has awarded a total of approximately $60 million over five years for these contracts. The awardees will identify novel compounds with the potential to be vaccine adjuvants. All compounds will be tested in animal models and human cells to determine how well they stimulate the immune response. The investigators also will examine and describe the cellular reactions the compounds induce.

"The goal of these awards is not only to identify new adjuvant candidates but also to describe how these candidates work," says Helen Quill, Ph.D., chief of NIAID's basic immunology research branch. "We would hope that these adjuvant candidates will become part of a robust pipeline leading to the development of many different vaccines."

The awardees of the adjuvant contracts will work to identify and characterize novel adjuvants that trigger receptors of the inborn, or innate, immune system. These receptors recognize and bind small molecules that are unique to harmful microorganisms. Binding stimulates an immediate innate immune response, a broadly protective reaction. The innate immune response also is required for the development of the highly specific antibody and T-cell responses that characterize long-term immunity.

The investigators also will seek to identify the cellular receptor for each of the novel adjuvant candidates, determine how it triggers the innate immune response, and then make changes to the adjuvant to improve its ability to induce the innate immune response. Although a number of innate immune receptors already have been described, many more likely exist and are expected to be uncovered in the course of these projects.

"The award of these contracts is an integral part of NIAID's long-range plan to expand the adjuvant pipeline," says Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of NIAID's Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation, which oversees these awards. "A first round of NIAID contracts, awarded in 2003, limited the discovery of novel adjuvants to those that stimulated the only group of innate immune receptors known at the time. With this second round of awards, we intend to increase the number of adjuvant candidates by expanding the research scope to include all known innate immune receptors."

The institutions receiving contracts for 2009 are

  • James R. Baker, Jr., M.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Dennis A. Carson, M.D., Moores Cancer Center, University of California San Diego, La Jolla
  • Sunil A. David, M.D., Ph.D., University of Kansas, Lawrence
  • Michael J. Gale, Jr., Ph.D., University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle
  • David A. Johnson, Ph.D., Corixa Corporation (now part of GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals), Hamilton, Mont.
  • Peter Palese, Ph.D., Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City


Contact: Julie Wu
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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