Emory team to look at GSK vax response as part of NIH research

After a GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) herpes zoster vaccine posted 97.2% efficacy in all age groups in a recent Phase III trial, a research team will look further into how the vaccine was able to immunize the elderly, who are typically tougher to vaccinate due to weaker immune responses.

Emory's Bali Pulendran

The work is part of a newly announced $15 million NIH grant to an Emory University-led research group. The joint effort will set out to better understand human immune responses to vaccination, research that if successful could impact the wider vaccines R&D field and the industry.

Using a "systems vaccinology" approach, the team will combine immunology, genomics and bioinformatics to study immune responses to vaccination against varicella zoster virus and pneumococcal vaccines in transplant patients. Emory's Bali Pulendran--whose lab is credited with establishing the "systems vaccinology" field--will lead the research, tapping into expertise from scientists at Broad Institute, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, University of California, Berkeley, and several pharmaceutical firms, among others.

The group's first project will look at vaccination responses against varicella zoster virus in children and the elderly. Vaccination against the virus is the standard of care for the groups, but Merck's ($MRK) varicella zoster virus vaccine, Zostavax, has "limited efficacy" in those above 70, Emory's statement said. The intention is to learn more about the molecular mechanisms involved with vaccination, and the researchers have already provided proof of concept with the approach through studies of vaccines against yellow fever, smallpox, seasonal flu, meningococcal disease and dengue fever, the statement said.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will administer the renewed grant over a 5 year period, building on to the team's previous work into the topic in healthy adults. Other Pulendran-led vaccines projects include a team in 2011 using a yellow fever vaccine to promote longer-lasting immunity for recipients and a 2012 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for HIV/AIDS research.

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