GLYCOVAX is a network for the education of promising young scientists to the rational design of well-defined and innovative glycoconjugate vaccines to improve current therapies and tackle unmet medical needs. Vaccination with carbohydrate- protein conjugates have made possible to save millions of lives, by preventing meningitis, pneumoniae and other life threating diseases. Due to the increase of antibiotic resistance, it is expected that in the next years vaccination will be applied to tackle unmet medical needs, and for prevention of microbial infections caused by antibiotic resistant microorganisms, pandemic infections, and diseases for travelers to areas afflicted by diseases no longer present in the country of origin. Vaccination can aid reducing the use of broad spectrum antibiotics since it can provide protection (herd immunity) also for individuals who are not vaccinated.
The quality and immunological activity of future glycoconjugate can be improved by merging the most advanced techniques for selection of the carbohydrate to be linked to the protein, fast production of these carbohydrates and connection at specific sites of the protein.
The science developed under the GLYCOVAX programme will be applied to improve existing vaccines (as in the case of Neisseria meningitidis) and to epidemiologically relevant disease areas for which no therapy is yet available: neonatal infections (Group B streptococci), and nosocomial infections (Enterococci, Staphylococcus aureus).
To achieve its scope, GLYCOVAX is organized into four scientific work-packages, covering methods for carbohydrate preparation, including the innovative carbohydrate automated synthesis, carbohydrate-protein interaction studies, strategies for site-selective protein conjugation and screening of the produced glycoconjugate vaccine candidates.
A unique feature of GLYCOVAX is the profound interaction between academic and industry, which results from a network composed of 8 academic groups, 1 industrial partner and one small medium size enterprise (SME). The partners offer expertise in carbohydrate chemical/enzymatic synthesis, conjugation techniques, high throughput screening technology, structural glycobiology, vaccinology and immunology, and project management. All the students will be engaged in collaborative work and secondments with other partners.
The exposition of the fellows to the most innovative ideas and techniques in the growing field of glycoscience and vaccinology and the concomitant training in transferable skills is expected to educate the next generation of academic or industrial research leaders.
To date all the students involved in GLYCOVAX have been recruited and they have attended three network workshops where they received lectures from internal and external experts in the field and trainings in soft skills.
GLYCOVAX has delivered building blocks and strategies (liquid phase and solid phase automated syntheses, chemoenzymatic synthesis and other synthetic approaches) for the synthesis of glycans that will be needed to support the vaccine design.
Monoclonal antibodies that will allow in vitro selection of the most promising antigens for vaccine development have been already produced. Activities are already underway to map the interactions of these antibodies with the synthesized oligosaccharides by NMR studies. Progress is also ongoing in developing novel carbohydrate-protein coupling methods.
Out of the results, two articles have already been published and two are in preparation. In addition results have been achieved, potentially valuable for IP consideration and development.
Students also started to be involved in dissemination and public engagement activities at local level, such as scientific festivals and open research days, and to international conferences and symposia.
The integrated scientific approach used in GLYCOVAX will enable the creation of glycoconjugate vaccines with higher quality control standards, with no need to use the pathogen as carbohydrate source and characteristics optimized in order to maximize the immunological activity. This will impact the current process of vaccine manufacturing making it safer, more robust and controllable (Fig.1). Results with potential to be translated into patent applications have been already achieved.
Most importantly, the advancement of these technologies will allow the design of novel vaccines to combat diseases for which there is no preventive therapy available. This could potentially have a strong impact in terms of improved public healthcare standards, reduction of costs compared to current medical treatments, and minimization of the use of antibiotics.
Training in both scientific and transferable skills already received by the young scientists recruited in GLYCOVAX, together with the activities expected in the second part of the project, will allow them to improve their career perspectives. The courses, together with training already ongoing at the partner premises, will guarantee that all the students will receive enough knowledge on scientific and various complementary topics to foster their entrepreneurial mind-set. The intersectoriality and interdisciplinary aspects of the partnership will create a generation of scientists able to adapt to changes in global technology and that will represent an investment into the research livelihood of the European Union.