MISSOULA – The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a $12.3 million contract to the University of Montana to develop a novel vaccine adjuvant for use in a tuberculosis vaccine. Adjuvants are substances that boost the effectiveness of vaccines.
The five-year award went to UM’s Center for Translational Medicine and its partners. The contract is titled “Development of UM-1098: A Novel Synthetic Th17 Inducing Adjuvant and Delivery System.”
“The development and clinical evaluation of safe and effective adjuvants is urgently needed for the advancement of vaccines to combat the ongoing threat of bacterial and fungal infections, including tuberculosis, pertussis and others,” said Jay Evans, director of the UM center. “TB affects a significant portion of the global population, and the only licensed vaccine, BCG, has limited effectiveness. Thus the development of an effective vaccine is critical to end the global TB epidemic.”
According to the World Health Organization, 1.6 million people died from TB in 2021. Worldwide, TB is the 13th leading cause of death and second leading infectious killer after COVID-19 (above HIV and AIDS).
Drs. Evans and Walid Abdelwahab are the co-principal investigators on the contract, along with their colleagues Drs. David Burkhart, Asia Riel and Blair DeBuysscher with Center for Translational Medicine. The project also includes researchers from the University of Chicago (Dr. Shabaana Khadar), the Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Dr. Smriti Mehra) and Missoula-based Inimmune Corp., a corporate development partner (Drs. Kendal Ryter and Shannon Miller).
Evans said vaccine development for TB and other bacterial and fungal pathogens has been hampered by the lack of appropriate adjuvants and effective formulations. This new contract builds upon a recently completed $13 million NIH Adjuvant Discovery Contract, which identified the lead candidate being advanced toward human clinical trials in the current award.
“This funding represents tremendous support for our continuous research efforts in advancing safe and efficient adjuvants and formulation strategies for further development of vaccine candidates against TB,” Abdelwahab said. “This contract is a strong endorsement of our exceptional vaccine research team at UM.”
The project involves a large vaccine research team at UM with more than two decades of research on improving vaccines through the use of adjuvants and novel delivery systems to ensure vaccines are safely and efficiently delivered to the targeted cells. The UM research will involve both undergraduate and graduate students, providing them with an opportunity to do research on a new vaccine that may have a profound impact on global health.
“There is extraordinary research ongoing at UM that could positively impact the lives of countless people,” Evans said. “Our Vaccine Research Team is dedicated to nurturing and cultivating an interactive research community at UM, specifically geared toward advancing these technologies to help individuals and communities in Montana and across the globe.”
Inimmune is a biotech company located at the University’s business incubator, MonTEC. It will assist with vaccine manufacturing efforts and advancement of this new technology to human clinical trials. The Inimmune efforts will be led by Ryter, the company’s vice president of manufacturing and development.
“Inimmune is very excited to be chosen as a collaborator to advance this exciting new technology,” Ryter said. “Adjuvants and immunomodulators that effectively drive a Th17-biased immune response are not part of the standard vaccine tool kit, and we see this approach as having tremendous potential in developing therapies for some of the most difficult to treat and impactful infectious diseases in the world, such as TB.”
Founded in 2016, Inimmune focuses on the discovery and development of new immunomodulatory therapeutics for treatment of allergic diseases, cancer and infectious disease. Learn more at https://inimmune.com/.
Contact: Jay Evans, research professor, UM Center for Translational Medicine director, 406-381-0573, firstname.lastname@example.org.