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Extending Our Immune Medicine Platform: How T Cells Can Be Used in the Design and Development of Next-Generation Vaccines

Headshot of Harlan Robins

Harlan Robins, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we applied our proprietary immune medicine platform to decode the immune response to the virus. We have mapped the T-cell immune response from more than 6,500 blood samples from individuals impacted by COVID-19 and made that data freely available to help researchers around the world to better understand why this disease affects some more than others, and to contribute meaningful solutions, including diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.

Some parts of the world have begun to get the pandemic under control, thanks in large part to the biopharmaceutical industry which has done a heroic job accelerating the development of life-saving vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 and delivering them to patients in record-breaking time. However, the spread of the virus is not yet under control worldwide, and the emergence of new and potentially more dangerous variants remains a concern. As the virus continues to evolve, there is a pressing need for new vaccine strategies including next-generation vaccines to help end the pandemic and maximize the number of additional lives that can be saved.

A T-cell-based vaccine may provide more complete viral protection, long-term immunity and viral clearance against known and future variants of concern

The scientific community has learned that our bodies’ T-cell response is critically important in immunity to and protection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While antibodies are an important line of defense, T cells persist longer, and the T-cell response is much broader in that it recognizes many different parts of the virus.  Looking for other ways to harness the power of the T-cell immune response to develop better medicines for patients, Adaptive began studying T-cell epitopes. Epitopes are the small parts of viruses to which T-cells bind, thus triggering the immune response.

To date most vaccine makers have primarily focused on driving an antibody response, not a T-cell response, because it is much more difficult to identify specific parts of the virus to which T cells respond. As part of our work to decode the immune response to the virus, we have been able to characterize a comprehensive range of immunodominant T-cell epitopes – the parts of the virus which induce the strongest T-cell response – in both its ancestral and variant forms. These immunogenic bits of proteins can be used as a vaccine target to both prevent and treat COVID-19.

A next-generation T-cell based vaccine approach is promising and would enable us to enlist both the cellular and humoral parts of the adaptive immune system. By encoding a range of specific T-cell targets into the vaccine, we could generate a broader immune response with the potential to boost the antibody response already generated by first generation vaccines. This approach may give us a greater chance of weakening the virus’ ability to evade immune recognition as it mutates and to generate longer lasting protection.

Adaptive’s immune medicine platform can inform the design and development of vaccines

Earlier this week, Vaccibody, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company that is dedicated to the discovery and development of vaccines and novel immunotherapies, announced an exclusive license agreement with Adaptive to develop a next-generation vaccine powered by our knowledge of the T-cell response to SARS-CoV-2. Vaccibody’s vaccine candidates will specifically address emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants using the exact approach described above. Vaccibody’s T-cell based vaccine candidate may have both prophylactic and therapeutic potential and may also fit the profile of a universal vaccine booster for use with other SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.

Using their differentiated vaccine technology, Vaccibody will use T-cell epitopes identified and validated by Adaptive’s immune medicine platform to design and develop next-generation vaccines to fight the pandemic. The T-cell epitopes span multiple antigens across the SARS-CoV-2 genome, both on the spike and non-spike regions of the virus, to enable a much broader longer-lasting immune response and make it more difficult for current and future variants to evade. This is the first time that Adaptive’s platform is used to inform the design and development of vaccines.

This approach is versatile to develop vaccines across many different disease areas

This an important T-cell based vaccine clinical development program. Our Vaccibody collaboration is yet another validation of our platform to inform the design and development of novel, next-generation vaccines. We’re particularly excited to pursue additional applications of our platform that may inform the development of vaccines to prevent or treat many different diseases beyond COVID-19.

Adaptive is using its immune medicine platform to validate T-cell epitopes to hundreds of potentially clinically relevant targets in multiple diseases, paving the way for the development of an entirely new class of vaccines for other infectious diseases, autoimmune disorders and cancer. As with other technologies that came of age during the pandemic, this additional validation of our platform may allow us to be a key player in an era of novel target discovery and development of immune-mediated therapeutics to help tackle many other devastating diseases.

While the information is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of the information. The information may change without notice and Adaptive Biotechnologies is not in any way liable for the accuracy of any information printed and stored or in any way interpreted and used by a user.