Insect Virus Joins Fight Against Neglected Tropical Diseases

CAmbride, UK. 28th June 2016

Scientists at Cell Guidance Systems, Cambridge University and Imperial College are exploiting microscopic crystals, made by a cypovirus, to produce stable vaccines for diseases that mostly affect the world's poorest people.


Neglected Tropical Diseases receive relatively little research funding, yet affect the health of 1.4 Billion people, killing over 100,000 each year. Now, scientists in Cambridge and London are exploiting microscopic crystals, made in insect cells by a cypovirus, to produce stable vaccines for diseases that affect the world's poorest people.

Vaccines can halt the spread of disease, but need to be kept cold. Keeping a "cold chain" all the way from production lab to clinic is particularly challenging in the poorest countries. So the development of vaccines that will still work without the need for cold storage is a major research goal.

Scientists working at Cambridge Company Cell Guidance Systems Ltd, as well as Cambridge University's Department of Pathology and Imperial College London's Department of Medicine have won a government contract worth almost £500,000 to develop a technology that could transform the way vaccines are made.

PODS™ (Polyhedra Delivery System) exploits the unique properties of polyhedrin, a protein made by a cypovirus that infects silkworms. The polyhedrin protein forms small crystal cubes within infected insect cells. These crystals incorporate newly made copies of the virus into their crystal structure, protecting them following release from the insect, resulting in a distinct survival advantage.

Genetic engineering techniques have now been used to adapt this viral survival mechanism to encapsulate essentially any protein, including vaccine proteins. As well as eliminating the need for cold storage, it is hoped PODS™ technology may also be used to make vaccines that can be taken orally.

Initially, vaccines for Zika virus, Ebola virus, and Lassa fever will be targeted. Dr Michael Jones, CEO of Cell Guidance Systems, the company developing PODS™ technology commented "The development of effective vaccines for Neglected Tropical Diseases is urgent and an obvious application of PODS™ technology. These early stage studies will confirm the potential of the technology to make effective, robust vaccines for infectious diseases."