New research collaboration on next-generation vaccines against gastrointestinal mucosal pathogens

Interdisciplinary project “Vax2Muc” will receive more than 8.4 million Euro funding from the European Union over five years

The constant rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has a major impact on global public health, urgently requiring novel strategies to prevent and treat bacterial infections. The development of effective vaccines represents an attractive cost-effective alternative to novel antibiotics and would be a game changer for patients. For many bacterial infections, especially those occurring on mucosal sites, no effective vaccines exist. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a pathogen residing in the stomach, is the cause of the most common chronic bacterial infection, affecting half of the world´s population, with a high risk to progress into gastric cancer. Therefore, among other gastrointestinal pathogens, H. pylori was declared as priority neglected AMR target pathogen by the WHO, requiring rapid intervention to counter AMR. Standard-of-care for H. pylori is still an antibiotic therapy combined with a proton pump inhibitor, and thus effective treatment of H. pylori infection is severely hampered by rising AMR.

Helicobacter pylori cells on blue backgroundHelicobacter pylori, a pathogen residing in the stomach, is the cause of the most common chronic bacterial infection. ©HZI/Rohde

Against this backdrop, the Technical University of Munich (TUM) coordinates the project Vax2Muc (“Next generation vaccines against gastrointestinal mucosal pathogens, using helicobacter pylori as a model pathogen”), an international and interdisciplinary research collaboration that sets out to develop improved, innovative, next generation subunit vaccines effective against diseases caused by AMR mucosal pathogens colonising the gastrointestinal tract. Over the next five years, the project will receive more than 8.4 million Euro funding from the European Union’s research programme Horizon Europe.

The international research team led by Prof Markus Gerhard (TUM) will develop, as a proof-of-concept, a prophylactic H. pylori vaccine candidate that will be evaluated in a phase I clinical trial. Moreover, it will advance GMP manufacturing, investigate and progress novel vaccine technologies and strategies for optimised mucosal immunity in the gastrointestinal tract.

The Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) will be involved in developing the mucosal vaccination strategy, as well as performing studies in mice to define the correlates of immunogenicity and protection of the vaccine candidates. “The HZI’s proprietary adjuvant c-di-AMP will be one of two adjuvants tested as a component of the vaccine,” says Prof Carlos A. Guzmán, head of the Department of Vaccinology and Applied Microbiology at the HZI. In addition to that, the HZI will participate in conducting the immune monitoring of the exploratory endpoints of the samples from the phase I clinical trial. Guzmán adds: “The cutting edge innovative technologies and multidisciplinary approach fostered by our consortium will be instrumental for achieving our ambitious goals.”

The Vax2Muc consortium includes world-leading institutions that are perfectly placed to evaluate such new technologies with the potential to close existing gaps in the prevention of bacterial infections. Besides the TUM and the HZI, the consortium includes experts from (in alphabetical order): Faculdade De Farmácia Da Universidade De Lisboa, InStar Technologies a.s., IRTA Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology, Statens Serum Institut, Trinity College Dublin, Universiteit Antwerpen, University of Strathclyde.

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