Vaccines are one of the most effective ways of combating infectious diseases and developing vaccine platforms that can be used to produce vaccines can greatly assist in combating global public health threats. This dissertation focuses on the development and pre-clinical testing of vaccine platforms that are highly immunogenic, easily modifiable, economically viable to produce, and stable. These criteria are met by the recombinant immune complex (RIC) universal vaccine platform when produced in plants. The RIC platform is modeled after naturally occurring immune complexes that form when an antibody, a component of the immune system that recognizes protein structures or sequences, binds to its specific antigen, a molecule that causes an immune response. In the RIC platform, a well-characterized antibody is linked via its heavy chain, to an antigen tagged with the antibody-specific epitope. The RIC antibody binds to the epitope tags on other RIC molecules and forms highly immunogenic complexes. My research has primarily focused on the optimization of the RIC platform. First, I altered the RIC platform to enable an N-terminal antigenic fusion instead of the previous C-terminal fusion strategy. This allowed the platform to be used with antigens that require an accessible N-terminus. A mouse immunization study with a model antigen showed that the fusion location, either N-terminal or C-terminal, did not impact the immune response. Next, I studied a synergistic response that was seen upon co-delivery of RIC with virus-like particles (VLP) and showed that the synergistic response could be produced with either N-terminal or C-terminal RIC co-delivered with VLP. Since RICs are inherently insoluble due to their ability to form complexes, I also examined ways to increase RIC solubility by characterizing a panel of modified RICs and antibody-fusions. The outcome was the identification of a modified RIC that had increased solubility while retaining high immunogenicity. Finally, I modified the RIC platform to contain multiple antigenic insertion sites and explored the use of bioinformatic tools to guide the design of a broadly protective vaccine.
- Plant-Expressed Vaccines: Enhancing the Recombinant Immune Complex Platform to Permit Rapid Vaccine Development Against Existing and Emerging Pathogens