UGA Awarded Grand Challenges Funding for Rotavirus Vaccine Research

RotavirusThe University of Georgia recently announced that it has received Phase II funding through Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative created by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that enables individuals worldwide to test bold ideas to address persistent health and development challenges.

Ralph A. Tripp, a professor and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Vaccine and Therapeutic Studies in the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine Department of Infectious Diseases, will lead a team in the pursuit of an innovative global health research project, titled “Improved Vaccine Production Technology for Rotavirus Vaccines.”

Tripp’s research team is receiving $1,327,570 to support the project, which involves identifying genes in vaccine cell lines that resist virus replication. This information is then combined with state-of-the-art gene editing technologies to create a new generation of high performance rotavirus vaccine manufacturing cell lines capable of sustained vaccine production at increased titers.

“As we demonstrated in our Phase I Polio program, also funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, single gene modulation events can enhance virus production by greater than 20-fold in cell lines currently employed in vaccine production,” said Tripp. “In our next study, we will advance our innovative Phase I studies by demonstrating the applicability of this technology to a second vaccine-preventable disease, rotavirus. Rotavirus is the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis, which leads to severe diarrhea and vomiting. It is responsible for more than 500,000 deaths per year in children less than 5 years old.”

GCE grants seek to engage individuals worldwide who can apply innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges. To achieve this, GCE invests in early stage ideas that have the potential to help bring people out of poverty and realize their human potential. In 2011, Tripp was awarded a Phase I grant to test his theory that an enhanced poliovirus vaccine cell line could be created by silencing specific virus-resistant genes. The recent Accelerated Grand Challenges Explorations Phase II grant acknowledges the successes of the polio vaccine cell line program and offers a new avenue to provide affordable vaccine coverage worldwide through continued transition of genomics discoveries into the applied fields of biomanufacturing.

“In addition, as demonstrated by our proof-of-principle work on poliovirus where we have made enhanced vaccine cell lines, these studies will increase our understanding of the biology of virus replication as well as innate host defense mechanisms, host pathogen interactions and viral pathogenesis thereby further facilitating drug and vaccine discovery and development,” noted Tripp.

The project team, led by Tripp, is comprised of members of a unique academic-industrial-government consortium that includes the University of Georgia; Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Victoria, Australia, which is where rotavirus was discovered in 1973.

Co-investigators on the project include S. Mark Tompkins, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the college; Jon Karpilow, of Thermo Fisher Scientific, who has worked in programs associated with siRNA and shRNA design, as well as applications of RNAi technology to bioprocessing; Jon Gentsch and Baoming Jiang, scientists from the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, Gastroenteritis and Respiratory Viruses Laboratory Branch, Division of Viral Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Carl Kirkwood, an associate professor at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, and head of the Australian Rotavirus Surveillance Program. These research teams will work with the University of Georgia to develop the methods to identify candidate cellular genes for silencing, and to develop engineered vaccine cells lines capable of enhanced rotavirus vaccine production.

Credit: Kat Gilmore, UGA

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