by: Atherly Pennybaker
Innovation, technology, and success has driven the vaccine industry to remain at the forefront of biotechnology and this year’s World Vaccine Congress was no exception. Taking place April 2-5 in Washington D.C., the 18th annual World Vaccine Congress lured over 1000 attendees from more than 300 leading global institutions to deliver the largest establishment of this event yet. Being surrounded by such a vast amount of knowledge and key influencers, my experience representing InVitria here was one full of inspiration.
The conference was organized to offer sessions with 250+ speakers covering all branches of the vaccine space, allowing those in attendance to choose their area of focus. When not attending talks by major thought leaders in the field, the exhibition hall, complete with over 60 exhibitors, offered a place to network and collaborate with the other scientific professionals while also learning about the latest technologies and advancements in the field. With all these exciting options and opportunities, my game-plan was to soak up as much as possible and summarize the key takeaways from this event.
1. Cancer immunotherapy is a mainstay in the vaccine space
In the cancer and immunotherapy sector, a large focus was on checkpoint inhibitors and their roles in advancing vaccines to treat cancer. An interesting panel discussion was held on methods to enhance the effectiveness of these therapeutics by combining immune checkpoint antagonists with agonists and inhibitors to modulate T-cell activation. The immune profiling branch provided a few key updates on the active work being done with immunotherapy and CAR-T cells for cancer as there has recently been a rapid increase in popularity and advancements in this space. Kite Pharma, whose mission is to cure cancer, has developed an anti-CD19 CAR T cell product comprised of both naïve and central memory T cells to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, a central issue related to cell therapy products lies in the demand of cells and ability to source cells from the patient. To circumvent these problems, Fate Therapeutics has created a novel off-the-shelf immunotherapy platform from pluripotent stem cells. Their robust manufacturing technology allows for the expansion of a desired cell type from pluripotent stem cells that has unprecedented scalability, making it possible to successfully target specific indications.
2. The industry sees a huge need to address seasonal threats with more robust manufacturing platforms that enable more rapid response
I also had the privilege of attending presentations in the area of influenza and respiratory vaccines where the latest breakthroughs and results from lead product candidates were shared. Many talks were given on the work being performed by several organizations for developing vaccines against RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which is second only to malaria as the global cause of infant mortality. Tackling another critical respiratory virus, Vivaldi Biosciences has worked on developing live attenuated influenza vaccines for both the common seasonal flu and the pandemic flu and shared encouraging results from a phase 2 clinical trial. With the detrimental flu season we saw this year, it comes to no surprise that a large focus was also on development of a universal flu vaccine.
3. Advances in technology to enhance vaccine effectiveness are an intense area of development
Some of the larger innovations seemed to come from the bioprocessing and manufacturing division where huge efforts have been put into changing the way vaccines are delivered to make the patient experience one void of fear or challenge. Vaxess Technologies has developed a sustained release microneedle patch that embeds tips into the patient’s skin and slowly releases the vaccine over 1-2 weeks. In a similar needle-free method, tesa Labtec in Europe utilizes a patch containing the printed active pharmaceutical ingredient in conjunction with Pantec’s laser that makes the skin more permeable. This kind of system not only obliterates the need for vaccine refrigeration but also allows for the potential of individualized medicine and dose combinations by means of the patch printing technology. For virus production, InVitria launched a completely chemically defined, blood-free media known as OptiVERO to increase production capacity while reducing risks associated with undefined components.
On top of all of this, there were also presentations on the topics of emerging and re-emerging diseases, vaccines clinical development and trials, vaccine partnerships, veterinary vaccines, vaccine safety, and vaccine supply and logistics. In this brief period of time, there was no shortage of captivating speakers or opportunities to meet influential players in the industry that all share the same drive and motivation for innovation. The 18th World Vaccine Congress united a very competitive, rapidly advancing field and I left the event full of both inspiration and pride knowing I was in the presence of those working to better the global vaccine space for years to come.