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DoD Backs Rapid Development of Q Fever Vaccine

Q Fever Coxiella burnetii bacteria

Scientists are working to develop an entirely new type of vaccine against Q fever, a NIAID Category B Priority Pathogen animal-borne disease and potential bioagent, which has infected a significant number of U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The project is being funded through a $5.2 million contract from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to a consortium of academic and industry organizations led by a team from the Vaccine and Immunotherapy Center (VIC) at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The award is the next step for an ambitious effort called VaxCelerate, which focuses on rapid development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. “The quickening pace at which new infectious diseases appear in humans, and their potential for rapid transmission across the globe, require a new way of developing vaccines for these threats,” said Mark Poznansky, MD, PhD, director of the VIC and principal investigator of the project. “We believe that the latest scientific concepts and technical advances from both academia and industry can be integrated in a new way to more rapidly develop and deploy new vaccines.”

The VaxCelerate process integrates cutting-edge technologies from different research organizations and companies into an end-to-end process for vaccine development. As the project leader, the MGH team aligns the coordinated work of the consortium with real-world requirements for candidate vaccines to move expeditiously into human use.

Additional VaxCelerate Q fever consortium members include Colorado State University; EpiVax Corporation; InnatOss Laboratories; and Yale University. Additional key efforts during specific program phases will be provided by 21st Century Biochemicals and Southern Research Institute.

VaxCelerate collaborators for each vaccine project are selected for their ability to contribute state-of-the-art approaches that can speed the pace of development and provide rapid clues to the likelihood that a vaccine will be successful in humans. “Each collaborator brings a specific set of technologies and expertise to bear on the development of this new vaccine candidate,” said Timothy Brauns, MBA, associate director of VIC. “We will effectively coordinate the efforts of these collaborators to produce a much needed vaccine candidate for expedited advancement into human studies.”

The VaxCelerate effort received early funding from the Defense Advanced Programs Agency (DARPA), enabling the consortium to successfully develop and test a new vaccine for Lassa fever in 120 days, starting only from genomic data on the virus.

Two prior VaxCelerate projects demonstrated the proof of principle that the distributed development approach could work for the design of a new vaccine and a so-called live fire demonstration that a new vaccine could be developed and preclinically tested within 120 days of the sequencing of the pathogen genome.

The current project focuses on development of an RNA-based vaccine that will promote protective responses against the Q fever bacteria without the potential safety issues that prevent existing vaccine candidates from receiving U.S. regulatory approval for use in humans.

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