3._Subunit Vaccines

Originally, non-replicating vaccines were derived from crude preparations of virus from animal tissues. As the technology for growing viruses to high titres in cell cultures advanced, it became practicable to purify virus and viral antigens. It is now possible to identify the peptide sites encompassing the major antigenic sites of viral antigens, from which highly purified subunit vaccines can be produced. Increasing purification may lead to loss of immunogenicity, and this may necessitate coupling to an immunogenic carrier protein or adjuvant, such as an aluminum salt. Examples of purified subunit vaccines include the HA vaccines for influenza A and B, and HBsAg derived from the plasma of carriers.  

4. Recombinant viral proteins

Virus proteins have been expressed in bacteria, yeast, mammalian cells, and viruses. E. Coli cells were first to be used for this purpose but the expressed proteins were not glycosylated, which was a major drawback since many of the immunogenic proteins of viruses such as the envelope glycoproteins, were glycosylated. Nevertheless, in many instances, it was demonstrated that the non-glycosylated protein backbone was just as immunogenic. Recombinant hepatitis B vaccine is the only recombinant vaccine licensed at present.

An alternative application of recombinant DNA technology is the production of hybrid virus vaccines. The best known example is vaccinia; the DNA sequence coding for the foreign gene is inserted into the plasmid vector along with a vaccinia virus promoter and vaccinia thymidine kinase sequences. The resultant recombination vector is then introduced into cells infected with vaccinia virus to generate a virus that expresses the foreign gene. The recombinant virus vaccine can then multiply in infected cells and produce the antigens of a wide range of viruses. The genes of several viruses can be inserted, so the potential exists for producing polyvalent live vaccines. HBsAg, rabies, HSV and other viruses have been expressed in vaccinia.

Hybrid virus vaccines are stable and stimulate both cellular and humoral immunity. They are relatively cheap and simple to produce. Being live vaccines, smaller quantities are required for immunization. As yet, there are no accepted laboratory markers of attenuation or virulence of vaccinia virus for man. Alterations in the genome of vaccinia virus during the selection of recombinant may alter the virulence of the virus. The use of vaccinia also carries the risk of adverse reactions associated with the vaccine and the virus may spread to susceptible contacts. At present, efforts are being made to attenuate vaccinia virus further and the possibility of using other recombinant vectors is being explored, such as attenuated poliovirus and adenovirus.  

5. Synthetic Peptides

The development of synthetic peptides that might be useful as vaccines depends on the identification of immunogenic sites. Several methods have been used. The best known example is foot and mouth disease, where protection was achieved by immunizing animals with a linear sequence of 20 aminoacids. Synthetic peptide vaccines would have many advantages. Their antigens are precisely defined and free from unnecessary components which may be associated with side effects. They are stable and relatively cheap to manufacture. Furthermore, less quality assurance is required. Changes due to natural variation of the virus can be readily accommodated, which would be a great advantage for unstable viruses such as influenza.

Synthetic peptides do not readily stimulate T cells. It was generally assumed that, because of their small size, peptides would behave like haptens and would therefore require coupling to a protein carrier which is recognized by T-cells. It is now known that synthetic peptides can be highly immunogenic in their free form provided they contain, in addition to the B cell epitope, T- cell epitopes recognized by T-helper cells. Such T-cell epitopes can be provided by carrier protein molecules, foreign antigens. or within the synthetic peptide molecule itself.

Synthetic peptides are not applicable to all viruses. This approach did not work in the case of polioviruses because the important antigenic sites were made up of 2 or more different viral capsid proteins so that it was in a concise 3-D conformation.  

Advantages of defined viral antigens or peptides include:
  1. Production and quality control simpler
  2. No NA or other viral or external proteins, therefore less toxic.
  3. Safer in cases where viruses are oncogenic or establish a persistent infection
  4. Feasible even if virus cannot be cultivated
  1. May be less immunogenic than conventional inactivated whole-virus vaccines
  2. Requires adjuvant
  3. Requires primary course of injections followed by boosters
  4. Fails to elicit CMI.  
6. Anti-idiotype antibodies

The ability of anti-idiotype antibodies to mimic foreign antigens has led to their development as vaccines to induce immunity against viruses, bacteria and protozoa in experimental animals. Anti-idiotypes have many potential uses as viral vaccines, particularly when the antigen is difficult to grow or hazardous. They have been used to induce immunity against a wide range of viruses, including HBV, rabies, Newcastle disease virus and FeLV, reoviruses and polioviruses.


Recently, encouraging results were reported for DNA vaccines whereby DNA coding for the foreign antigen is directly injected into the animal so that the foreign antigen is directly produced by the host cells. In theory these vaccines would be extremely safe and devoid of side effects since the foreign antigens would be directly produced by the host animal. In addition, DNA is relatively inexpensive and easier to produce than conventional vaccines and thus this technology may one day increase the availability of vaccines to developing countries. Moreover, the time for development is relatively short which may enable timely immunization against emerging infectious diseases. In addition,  DNA vaccines can theoretically result in more long-term production of an antigenic protein when introduced into a relatively nondividing tissue, such as muscle.

Indeed some observers have already dubbed the new technology the "third revolution" in vaccine development—on par with Pasteur’s ground-breaking work with whole organisms and the development of subunit vaccines. The first clinical trials using injections of DNA to stimulate an  immune response against a foreign protein began for HIV in 1995. Four other clinical trials using DNA vaccines against  influenza, herpes simplex virus, T-cell lymphoma, and an additional trial for HIV were started in 1996.

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