Hydrogen peroxide could be the key to safer and more efficient vaccine production, according to researchers at Oregon Health & Science University.
For the first time the team, led by Mark Slifka, proved the compound can be used to “dis-activate” the viruses used for vaccine production, which often pose a safety risk for manufacturers.
It was previously a widely held belief that H2O2’s strong oxidizing agents would irreversibly damage the basic molecular structure of proteins and hence the immunogenicity of the vaccination, the paper published in Nature Medicines journal explained.
However after proving it could safely be used on three unrelated virus model systems – West Nile virus, Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus and vaccinia virus, commonly used for small pox vaccines – Slifka now believes the platform is the change the industry seeks.
“H2O2rapidly inactivates both RNA (ribonucleic acid) and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) viruses with minimal damage to antigenic structure or immunogenicity and is a highly effective method when compared with conventional vaccine inactivation approaches,” the authors wrote.
“There is clearly an unmet need for identifying new and improved strategies for preparing inactivated vaccines.”
How it works
The platform works using hydrogen peroxide’s (H2O2) antiseptic qualities to protect the surface structure of the virus – or making them inactive – whilst maintaining the integrity of its composition.
The uptick is that – when tested in mice – the platform inactivated pathogens while maintaining antigenicity, or how the antigens bind themselves to immune response systems like T cell receptors or antibodies.
It could mean producers could soon have vaccines that are not only safer to make, but that have a better immune response than previous substances used – most commonly formaldehyde or β-propiolactone (BPL) – which work by “damaging” the virus’ carbon bonds leaving it less active.
The team said: “Despite the routine use of formaldehyde, vaccinologists have known for decades that it is a cross-linking agent that can damage key antigenic epitopes, leading to reduced immunogenicity or even exacerbated disease under certain circumstances.”
When compared by testing all three platforms on the yellow fever virus (YFV), H2O2 maintained significantly greater antibody binding compared to formaldehyde or BPL.
The disarming race
According to Slifka et al, using H2O2 also means quicker production than formaldehyde, or BPL, because the substance can disarm a vaccine in less than four minutes – previously un-heard of.
“For the viruses described here, H2O2 -based inactivation followed first-order rate kinetics, with half-life decay rates of less than four minutes,” said Slifka.
“This is in contrast to formaldehyde, with which complete virus inactivation often requires two to three weeks of treatment.”
The team now hopes the technology could go a long way to providing previously unobtainable vaccines.
Slifka added: “The ability to inactivate a wide spectrum of pathogens, including viruses bacteria, parasites and potentially even bacterial spores may allow expansion into new areas of vaccine research, fulfilling previously unmet needs for combating a number of human pathogens.”