In the first study of its type in the malaria field, Seattle BioMed has been awarded an $8.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to identify biomarkers that will allow malaria vaccine design based on robust predictors of protective immunity. Ruobing Wang, M.D., Ph.D., will lead the study – Seattle BioMed’s first to include the integration of its recently announced systems biology approach to infectious disease research – with a team that includes Seattle BioMed’s Stefan Kappe, Ph.D., and Alan Aderem, Ph.D., along with Patrick Duffy, M.D., of the National Institutes of Health, Jonathan Derry, Ph.D., of Sage Bionetworks, and Xiaowu Liang, Ph.D., of Antigen Discovery Inc. (ADi).
According to Wang, the goal of the study is to identify and validate biomarkers that correlate with vaccine-induced protective immunity against malaria infection. “In order to bring the burden of malaria under control – with the ultimate goal of eradicating the pathogens that cause disease – we know we need a highly efficacious anti-infection vaccine,” she explained. “But, without reliable biomarkers of anti-infection immunity, the development and testing of malaria vaccines is a slow and expensive process.” Biomarkers will be used for prediction and monitoring the vaccine efficacy in clinical trials and to select optimal vaccine candidates for development.
To conduct this research, Seattle BioMed will call upon its proven areas of expertise and knowledge – successful vaccine and immunology studies in animal models of malaria, the ability to grow human malaria parasites in mosquitoes for research and clinical studies, and its ability to develop genetically attenuated parasite strains for human trials. It will also begin full-scale trials in its Malaria Clinical Trials Center, and employ its newfound expertise in the area of systems biology.
Through Kappe’s research, Seattle BioMed scientists have developed genetically attenuated whole parasite vaccine strains that have proven successful in rodent malaria models and have moved into human studies. “In this new study, we will use genetically attenuated parasite strains as probes to determine whether host correlates of immunity can be identified during vaccination in mice,” Kappe explained. “These model vaccines provide an opportunity to discriminate biomarkers associated with complete, long-lasting protection from those associated with partial, short-lived or lack of protection.”
Researchers at Seattle BioMed will then apply the knowledge gained in mouse models to human studies. “Through studies conducted at Seattle BioMed’s Malaria Clinical Trials Center, we’ll evaluate whether biomarkers of protection identified in the rodent models will predict protective immunity in humans,” explained Wang.
Applying Aderem’s expertise in the field of systems biology to malaria research will be a key component of this project. Seattle BioMed researchers will employ network analysis of transcriptional responses to predict protection in both mice and humans to determine if they can find universal markers that will allow them to optimize vaccine candidates. According to Aderem, the power of systems biology lies in its capacity to predict the behavior of a biological system. “If we have the ability to predict whether a vaccine candidate for malaria will work before it goes into large scale clinical trials, we could move away from today’s typical ‘trial and error’ method toward a more powerful predictive approach to vaccine discovery and development,” he said.
Through these integrated studies, Seattle BioMed researchers will deliver a set of candidate immune biomarkers associated with protection against malaria infection that can be used for monitoring vaccine efficacy. “This will facilitate future malaria vaccine trials with the ultimate goal of accelerating the development of a highly effective malaria vaccine that has the potential to save millions of lives,” said Wang.
ABOUT SEATTLE BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE:
Seattle BioMed is the largest independent, non-profit organization in the U.S. focused solely on infectious disease research. Our research is the foundation for new drugs, vaccines and diagnostics that benefit those who need our help most: the 14 million who will otherwise die each year from infectious diseases, including malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Founded in 1976, Seattle BioMed has more than 360 staff members. By partnering with key collaborators around the globe, we strive to make discoveries that will save lives sooner. For more information, visit www.seattlebiomed.org.