Vaccination by inhalation

Nanomedicine award goes to a team including HZI and Merck scientists

Impfen durch Inhalieren (Illustration: Spray)Victor Koldunov - FotoliaVaccination by inhalation - Illustration Spray Scientists from a consortium including the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) have been awarded the "Nanomedicine Award 2015". The researchers developed a vaccination method, in which the Vaccine is nebulised and then taken up by the mucous membranes of the lung. The Nanomedicine Award is presented every other year by the European Technology Platform on Nanomedicine (ETPN).

Most vaccinations are done by means of an injection, which many people find to be an unpleasant experience. Moreover, immunisation by syringe requires a certain level of logistics as the sterility requirements are strict and the injection can be done only by a medically trained staff. For this reason, scientists have long sought ways of vaccinating "without a needle".

One promising new approach to this goal might be devised by the results of a consortium funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), in which scientists from Merck and various public research institutions engage in collaborative work. The team of researchers successfully developed vaccine-laden nanoparticles that can be transported into the lungs by means of an aerosol, where they are taken up via the Mucosa. They used chitosan, a biopolymer, as carrier substance. Both in mice and in test systems involving human cell cultures it was evident that the particles elicit an immune reaction.

"The uptake of the aerosol by the lung was actually sufficient for this in the test vaccines that have been investigated. Vaccine-reinforcing adjuvants allowed the use of effective components to be reduced by another factor of 10 without any loss in efficacy," explains Prof Claus-Michael Lehr, who is a senior scientist at the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS), a branch of the HZI. "In addition, the delivery on carrier particles makes the Vaccine particularly robust: There is no need to always keep it cold during transport and storage."

"One advantage of vaccinating via the mucous membranes is that the Vaccine enters the body via the same route that is used by many pathogens - which is in contrast to the administration by means of a syringe," says Prof Carlos A. Guzmán, senior scientist at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI). "This makes it easier for the body to build up an effective immune response."

"Our research is still in a very early stage ," explains Dr Andrea Hanefeld, who is the project director working for Merck. "Much research and development work is still needed until an applicable procedure for vaccination by means of an inhalation device will be developed at some point in time." But she is convinced: "The functional principle, i.e. vaccinating via the mucous membranes of the lung and triggering the immune cells with nanomedical procedures, has enormous potential. It can be utilised both for therapeutic vaccination in cancer therapy and for classical vaccination." According to Hanefeld, the joint project is an excellent example not only of a cooperation between private companies and public institutions (public-private partnership), but also of the interdisciplinary cooperation of pharmaceutical technologists and immunologists.

Aside from Merck and the HZI-branch HIPS, the project team also includes the Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the University of Kiel, the University Clinic Bonn and the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology in Würzburg.

The Nanomedicine Award is presented every other year by the European Technology Platform on Nanomedicine (ETPN, see www.etp-nanomedicine.eu) and the EU-funded initiative "Enabling Nanomedicine Translation“ (ENATRANS, www.enatrans.eu). The award acknowledges excellent developments in nanotechnology for medical application to the benefit of patients. The jury presented awards in the categories, "Best early clinical stage project" and "Best product / deal".

For more information, please visit: nanomedicine-award.com.

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