Vaccines are a big business and save an estimated eight million lives annually.
When Professor Anton Middelberg arrived at the Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) at The University of Queensland(UQ) in 20013, he looked carefully at vaccine developments and concluded that those that used virus-like particles (VLPs) were the future.
“VLPs are just fantastic.
They cause an enhanced immune response that has both cell and antibody components. You can freeze dry them so there is no need for a cold chain in the developing world and they can be given by nasal puffer, overcoming the need for a syringe” said Professor Middleberg.
At the time of the Professor Middleberg’s arrival, UQ was winning acclaim for Professor Ian Frazer’s breakthrough cervical cancer prevention,which used the VLP Gardasil. Professor Middelberg wondered what might be possible if he could create a “generic” VLP that could be tailored for any disease.
Armed with a $2 million Australian Research Council Federation Fellowship Professor Middleberg established a team to focus on the VLPpolyomavirus.
Professor Middelberg’s first real breakthrough came when team member and AIBN PhD student Pang Chuanalong with Protein Expression Facility manager Dr Linda Lua managed to achieve the highest expression of viral protein in bacteria to date.
With this early breakthrough, Professor Middelberg adopted a focused strategy of scientific platform development. In 2008 and 2009 there were a series of AIBN-led successes. New techniques for the quantitative assessment of VLP size and structure were developed and bioreactor methods were devised that led to gram-per-litre levels of VLPs from bacteria – the highest in the world.
In 2010 Professor Middlebergreceived the Queensland Smart Futures Premier’s Fellowship to further develop the VLP approach. “The $2.5 million grant allowed us to take the VLP technology to the next level and address specific diseases,” Professor Middelberg said. “By grafting elements of a dangerous pathogen on our VLP, we hope to be able to direct the immune response towards a new or existing disease.
“There is currently no commercial product or technology that can deliver tailored vaccines within weeks of a new disease emerging. Take, for example, H1N1 swine flu. Our VLP platform can potentially deliver vaccine in weeks, not months, stopping a pandemic before it starts.
“A billion plus people in Asia want a healthy future and deserve protection against new threats such as bird flu. This technology is ideally suited to those markets.”
Source: Erik De Witt, Marketing and Communications Manager
Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Article published with the assistance from:
Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), Colombo-Sri Lanka.
Contact: David Samuel, Business Development Manager, Email: David.Samuel@austrade.gov.au