MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -The West Virginia University Vaccine Development Center and Leidos, Inc. (NYSE: LDOS), a Fortune® 500 science and technology leader, are teaming up to investigate new treatments related to the bacterium pseudomonas aeruginosa. The bacterium can often lead to blood infections, pneumonia and post-surgery complications.
The one-year collaboration between WVU and Leidos will investigate how vaccines combined with peptides (small proteins) affect mice challenged with the pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterium.
“Initial research shows promise combining the peptides that target the body’s programmed cell death protein 1 (PD1) receptor and the vaccine,” said Mariette Barbier, lead researcher and assistant professor at the WVU School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology. “This immunotherapy could potentially serve as an adjuvant – boosting the body’s immune response more than just a vaccine alone.”
PD1 checkpoint inhibitors (anticancer drugs) have revolutionized cancer treatment over the past decade. At the heart of this revolution is the discovery that nearly all tumor cells inappropriately express the protein Programmed Cell Death Ligand 1 (PDL1). This acts like a “cloaking device” for the immune system to survey and remove cancer cells. New research has revealed that infectious disease agents use the same strategies as cancer to “hide” from the immune system and escape from vaccines.
“We are always on the lookout for novel adjuvants to improve our vaccine’s efficacy,” Barbier said. “Targeting PD1 is a novel way to not only recruit antibodies against the pathogen, but also T cells. The field of cancer research has had tremendous success in targeting PD1 with expensive therapeutics, called monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). The Leidos peptide-based technology for targeting PD1 will allow us to translate the tools of cancer, for infectious agents in a cost-efficient manner.”
“Our peptides are derived from microbial sources and act rapidly when combined with a vaccine,” said James Pannucci, PhD, Vice President for the Leidos Health Group. “These peptides also degrade rapidly to avoid overreaction of the immune system, which the mAbs have been shown to produce. Based on our previous success with peptides in a malaria vaccine model system, this combination with the WVU pseudomonas vaccine shows great promise.”
Together, WVU and Leidos hope to enhance the immune response to vaccines and improve protection using the company’s peptides. Much of the clinical research will occur at WVU’s Vaccine Development Center. Leidos will provide funding and technology to assist with the study.
“This is a prime example of industry and academia coming together,” said Justin Bevere, assistant director of the Center.
The WVU Vaccine Development Center helps researchers move their vaccines out of academic labs and into the market by partnering with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Leidos recently opened a new office in Morgantown, West Virginia, which will further enable collaboration between Leidos and WVU.
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BARBIER: Mariette Barbier, an assistant professor in the WVU School of Medicine, is teaming up with Leidos to investigate how vaccines combined with peptides (small proteins) affect mice challenged with pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that can lead to blood infections, pneumonia and post-surgery complications. (WVU photo/Aira Burkhart)