Combining Epitope-Based Vaccine Design with Informatics-Based Evaluation to Obtain a Universal Influenza Vaccine
Peter Kwong of the Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the U.S. will use an informatics-based approach to identify influenza virus epitopes that are especially suited to induce a strong and broad immune response, being conserved, accessible, and with a specific structural flexibility, and develop them as vaccine targets. Influenza is highly contagious and can cause severe illness, particularly among the young, elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions. Current vaccines are only partially effective, protect against single strains, and are generally ineffective against pandemic strains. Starting with three exposed influenza viral proteins, hemagglutinin (HA), neuraminidase (NA), and matrix protein 2 ectodomain (M2e), they will identify and rank candidate epitopes by determining their structural flexibility using all-atom molecular dynamic simulations, and by evaluating their conservation and surface accessibility, to promote recognition by the immune system and the generation of antibodies that target different viral strains. Candidate epitopes will be tested for antigenicity in vitro, and the best used to immunize mice to characterize the antibody response. After optimizing the vaccine regimen, they will ultimately evaluate the ability of the candidate vaccines to provide protection against diverse influenza strains in multiple animal models.