Probi pact looks to use probiotics to deliver needle-free vaccines

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Åke Strid, Sören Andersson and Magnus Johansson lead the research with the goal of developing vaccines that can be absorbed by the body's mucous membranes. ©Maria Elisson
Åke Strid, Sören Andersson and Magnus Johansson lead the research with the goal of developing vaccines that can be absorbed by the body's mucous membranes. ©Maria Elisson

Related tags Probi Probiotic Vaccine

Probi, along with nine other Swedish firms, are to enter into a collaboration with Örebro University that looks to use probiotics as a needle-free delivery vehicle to transport vaccines into and across the body.

The collaboration has been granted just over €1.3m (SEK 14m) in funding by the KK foundation program for Synergy, with the total budget set at €3.2m (SEK 34m) as firms involved will contribute with personnel.

The primary focus will be on the delivery of vaccines via mucous membranes, bypassing the use of injections in the process.

One possibility of extreme interest is the use of probiotic bacteria with the aim of inducing immunity against pathogens.

The Swedish-based firm says the capability of probiotic bacteria to persist in close proximity to the mucosal surfaces is key to presenting the vaccine antigens to the immune system and exerting immune-stimulating effects.

“An important fact is that many infectious agents enter the body via mucosal surfaces and that these surfaces harbour around two thirds of the body’s immune system,” ​says Titti Niskanen, director R&D and clinical operations at Probi.

“The hypothesis is that the probiotics will present the vaccine antigens to the immune system in a way that will result in a more efficient immune response. In addition to this, it is known that certain probiotic strains can exert these immune-stimulating effects.”

We hope to be ready for clinical studies of several new vaccine candidates within four years, and that Örebro University has significant research in vaccinology,​ adds Magnus Johansson, professor of biomedicine and project manager for ‘development vaccine@oru,’ initiative.

Polio vaccine

The concept of utilising the body’s mucous membranes in vaccine function is already in use today, where it has proved effective in tackling polio. But Dr Johansson says vaccination via the mucosa is underutilised and more research is required.

“Most of our immune system is found in the mucous membranes, mainly in the stomach and intestines," ​he explains. "There are hundreds of infectious diseases, but only vaccines against some 30 of them.

"So, there is clearly a great need for research, as vaccine is the type of drug that is considered to have saved most lives over time,”​ he adds. “It is too early to speculate other potential uses, but our focus now is on the vaccine project.”

The ‘development vaccine@oru’ project, which includes Valneva Sweden, Eurocine Vaccines, Adlego Biomedical and Svenska Vaccinfabriken Produktion, will focus on conditions such as tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), HIV and hepatitis, amongst other conditions.

The aim is to identify the proteins or parts of proteins that are needed for the immune system to react, giving an immune response and forming antibodies.

The project, which also welcomes Mivac Development, Nordic BioAnalysis, Academy of Quality in Pharm Science, GU Ventures AB and Vecura (Karolinska University Hospital), would then test these protein components in combinations with substances that enhance the effect, also known as the adjuvant. The purpose is to get an adequate response from the vaccine.

Further project aims

Another project focus looks to find sustainable, fast and safe ways to manufacture vaccines with researchers also looking at immunological mechanisms that are crucial for improved mucosal vaccination.

“It is easier to take a tablet under the tongue, a dose as a nasal spray or swallow a capsule,”​ says Dr Johansson.

“In addition, there are risks with syringes. They can make mistakes and cause pain. And this often requires a cold chain and sterile equipment.

“We see great opportunities to gather and build up broad knowledge in vaccinology at Örebro University and establish collaborations between research and companies. This is the push we need to get to the next level,”​ he adds.

“There are already many people who have come a long way with vaccines against Covid-19, so we stick to the plan we had from the beginning.

“Because it is about research, we do not know exactly what our discoveries can lead to, but the knowledge can of course also be used by others to find new ways to fight future virus pandemics."

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