The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $1.1 million grant to the University of Colorado at Boulder to develop next-generation vaccines that do not need to be refrigerated. The money will fund research conducted by Robert Garcea, PhD, Theodore Randolph, PhD, and Alan Weimer, PhD, who work in the university’s Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building (JSCBB).1
A major goal is to develop genetically engineered vaccines that deliver time-released doses in the body.
Dr. Garcea, who is with the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and the BioFrontiers Institute, has teamed up with Dr. Randolph and Dr. Weimer of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The collaboration is intended to build on Garcea’s work on the development of vaccines such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and efforts by Randolph and Weimer to make vaccines “thermostatable” (able to resist temperature fluctuations) by converting them into a “glassy powder” form.1
The research is intended to address the problem of “bad batches” of vaccines resulting from improper transport, handling, and storage, exposing vaccines to temperature variations that can reduce their safety and efficacy. Occasionally, there are reports of people subjected to revaccination against the same disease after having been injected with doses from a bad batch of vaccines.2
According to an article by Patrice La Vigne in The Vaccine Reaction last year:
[I]t seems that bad batches of vaccines, due to temperature variations, may be occurring more often than people realize, creating a largely overlooked and growing global problem of waste and revaccination.2
As a glassy powder, a vaccine can be safely stored in temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit for as long as four months. The grant from the Gates Foundation will seek to combine these vaccine powders with techniques that “allow uniform nanoscopic protective layers of aluminum oxide to be applied to vaccine microparticles”—a protective coating process called “atomic layer deposition” which also reportedly helps to stimulate an immune system response.1
A key application of the coating process technique being pursued is “extended release, multilayer microparticulate vaccine dosage forms.” These dosage forms would be made up of an “inner core of stabilized vaccine coated with aluminum oxide layers and an outer layer of vaccine, all embedded in a glassy powder.” Upon injection, the vaccine’s outer layer would provide an initial dose of the vaccine. A second dose—the inner core of the vaccine—would be released when the aluminum oxide layers dissolve.1
The concept is similar to the time release technology used by the pharmaceutical industry in the manufacture of pill tablets or capsules to allow for the gradual release of a drug into the bloodstream.
1 $1.1 million grant funds CU Boulder research into next-generation vaccines. University of Colorado Boulder Nov. 7, 2016.
2 La Vigne P. Bad Batches: The Effect of Temperature Fluctuations in Vaccines. The Vaccine Reaction Oct. 26, 2015.