SBU and Janssen to Collaborate on New Inactivated Poliovirus Vaccine

From left: Jeronimo Cello, Eckard Wimmer and Benjamin Hsiao with Sean Boykevisch, Senior Licensing Associate, Office of Technology Licensing & Industry Relations

Stony Brook University has reached a research collaboration agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. for the development of a new inactivated polio vaccine based on novel highly attenuated polio viral seed strains. These strains, when inactivated, have the potential to be as effective and as safe as the current inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV).

Distinguished Professor Eckard Wimmer and Research Assistant Professor Jeronimo Cello, from the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Stony Brook University, both with extensive backgrounds in studying the poliovirus, developed the new seed strains for inactivated vaccine by genetically modifying the RNA of the wild-type poliovirus.

Poliomyelitis, in short polio, is a crippling, potentially fatal and highly contagious illness caused by poliovirus with no cure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of cases has fallen by more than 99 percent since the launch of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, with three countries remaining polio endemic: Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2012 there were 222 confirmed cases of wild type poliovirus. The Independent Monitoring Board of the GPEI warned in a recent report that there is a significant risk of a resurgence of polio in 2013.

“In spite of much progress, the virus still persists,” said Wimmer. “Development of a new vaccine is extremely important, particularly when the WHO ends all use of the oral (live) vaccine in the near future.” Wimmer notes that currently, IPV is being produced from highly neurovirulent polioviruses. “As the demand for IPV will vastly increase in the future, production cannot be accomplished without risks from these virulent strains. Hence the call for novel attenuated seed viruses for IPV.”

According to Wimmer and Cello, the main property of these newly developed strains developed at Stony Brook is that they keep the antigenic makeup of the wild-type viruses, but in contrast are void of their neurovirulence. “Our viruses have an important biosafety characteristic that safeguards the population,” said Cello.

“The new virus cannot make proteins as easily in neuronal cells,” said Wimmer. “When the virus gets recognized by the immune system it will induce a protective immune response as if this were the dangerous virus. If it were to get into the brain, it doesn’t do any harm because of the modifications that we put into the RNA. Our vaccine candidates for IPV have the potential to be as good as the current inactivated poliovirus vaccine but without the dangers of the wild-type virus.”

“The poliovirus seed strains created by Dr. Wimmer and Dr. Cello have the potential to lead to a safer and more effective inactivated poliovirus vaccine,” said Benjamin Hsiao, Vice President for Research at Stony Brook University. “Such a vaccine will fill a critical need in achieving and maintaining global polio eradication. We are delighted to have the opportunity to partner with Janssen to bring this technology to market in the effort to eradicate this devastating disease.”

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