In-Depth: New nanoparticle from La Jolla Institute could improve several vaccines

La Jolla Institute for Immunology
Posted at 4:58 PM, Dec 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 21:11:30-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – Scientists at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology and MIT have invented a promising new nanoparticle that significantly improves vaccine responses in animal studies.

If proven in trials on humans, the particle could improve the effectiveness of a range of vaccines that rely on adjuvants, including the COVID-19 vaccine from Novavax, said LJI professor Dr. Shane Crotty, co-author of a new paper on the particle in Science Immunology.

An adjuvant is an ingredient scientists add to a vaccine to trigger the immune response into churning out protective antibodies and T cells. More than two dozen licensed vaccines rely on adjuvants, including vaccines for hepatitis, tetanus, shingles, and influenza.

Vaccine makers have leaned on adjuvants for decades, but only five adjuvants are approved for use in the U.S.

“We’re really excited about it as a new potential adjuvant that may be helpful for various human vaccines in the future,” Dr. Crotty said.

The National Institutes of Health has already awarded a vaccine consortium based at Scripps Research more than $3 million to manufacture and test the particle.

The nanoparticle is called SMNP. Researchers have been testing it since 2018 as part of a more than $100 million collaboration to discover a vaccine against HIV.

“This adjuvant is special because it’s stimulating the immune system in ways that are important and in ways that most other adjuvants don’t do very well,” Crotty said.

When a vaccine gets injected into your arm, the drug must travel to parts of the body where antibodies are made. The scientists found SMNP helps the vaccine reach its destination much faster, before the vaccine breaks down.

In studies on mice, they showed the nanoparticle significantly improves the production of antibodies.

“We’re really hopeful,” said Crotty.

The adjuvant will first undergo tests in an experimental vaccine for HIV, which is already in clinical trials. The researchers plan to test it in other vaccines soon.