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Molecular Express, Baylor Medicine Partner on Vaccines

Qizhi Cathy Yao

Qizhi Cathy Yao (Baylor College of Medicine)

15 August 2016. Vaccine developer Molecular Express and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston are developing boosters for vaccines from pieces of viruses that increase immune response to disease. The collaboration is part of a Molecular Express project funded by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of National Institutes of Health, but financial details were not disclosed.

The agreement calls for molecular virologist Qizhi Cathy Yao and colleagues to apply Molecular Express’s technology called Vesivax to adjuvants, or boosters, for vaccines to prevent and treat a range of diseases including pancreatic cancer and Chagas disease, an infection spread by parasites. Yao’s research includes work with virus-like particles, which Molecular Express aims to add to its Vesivax technology.

Vesivax delivers vaccine adjuvants in nanoscale lipid, or natural oil, containers. The adjuvants are a type of protein called toll-like receptors that detect foreign microbes in the body. Toll-like receptors stimulate innate, or general, defense mechanisms in the immune system, as well as responses to specific pathogens. This specific immune reaction is called adaptive immunity, which remembers the first encounter and responds to later interactions with the same pathogen.

In earlier proof-of-concept studies, the Rancho Dominguez, California company used vaccines and adjuvants designed with Vesivax to protect lab mice against influenza and other pathogens. In the new project, Molecular Express is expected to expand the Vesivax technology to a broader range of antigens, substances that stimulate production of antibodies in the immune system, including virus-like particles.

In earlier research, Yao and colleagues designed virus-like particles that in lab mice stimulate immune responses to HIV infections. Their findings indicate these particles activate immunoglobulin G antibodies from B-cells, white lymphocyte blood cells in the immune system. In addition, vaccines made with virus-like particles travel directly to lymph nodes, where lymphocytes are formed.

In the collaboration with Molecular Express, Yao’s lab plans to combine its earlier work with virus-like particles with Vesivax. One the targets is pancreatic cancer, where researchers will test Vesivax-delivered virus-like particles as a treatment for pancreatic cancer in lab mice. Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to diagnose in its early stages, due to few unique symptoms associated with the disease, as well as the pancreas being hidden among other organs in the body. As a result, it is often diagnosed in later, more advanced stages of the disease, with generally a poor prognosis for survival.

In previous work, Yao and colleagues created virus-like particles with mesothelin, a cell-binding protein produced in abundance in a number of cancers, and being tested in cancer immunotherapies. Yao’s results show virus-like particles with mesothelin significantly inhibit tumor progression in lab mice induced with pancreatic cancer.

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