New vaccine against flu, other diseases, developed at Hebrew University

May 29, 2003

A group of researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has developed an effective new method for administering vaccines against influenza and other diseases through nasal drops or sprays.

The Yissum Research Development Company of the Hebrew University has applied for a patent for the new method and is in contact with international pharmaceutical companies with a view towards commercialization.

The research group includes Eli Kedar, the Bernard L. and Mary T. Sachs Professor of Cancer Studies; Yechezkel Barenholz, the Dr. Daniel G. Miller Professor of Cancer Research; and doctoral candidate Aviva Joseph. For her research work on this project, Joseph has been selected as one of this year's winners of a Kaye Innovation Award, which was presented on May 27 during the 66th meeting of the Hebrew University Board of Governors. This is the tenth anniversary year of the Kaye Awards.

The outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) has given even greater importance to the development of immunizations caused by viruses or bacteria. Added to this is the threat of biological terror attacks and the constant dread of a world-wide outbreak of new strains of influenza.

Existing vaccines are not sufficiently effective among the infirm elderly whose immune system is deficient due to age; those whose immune system has been damaged due, for example, to exposure to AIDS; or those who are receiving treatments that repress the immune system, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Despite the fact that most disease-causing microorganisms (or pathogens) enter the body either through the respiratory or digestive systems, the great majority of vaccines today are given through injection into muscular tissue. The injections administered to the muscle do not provide, in many cases, sufficient protection against the infectious agent at the point of its entry into the body.

The advantage of the new method developed by the Hebrew University researchers is that the drops or spray administered through the nose are capable of stopping infections at the point of entry. Also, it overcomes the fear of many people to injections and can be self-administered. This type of treatment can be given easily to large populations within a relatively short period of time, thereby halting the threat of widespread dispersal. This also gives a particular advantage in trying to reach remote areas.

The new method is based on new formulations of tiny fatty spheres (liposomes), which are positively charged and are capable of transporting proteins from infectious agents. When the vaccine containing the liposomes is administered, the immune system is aroused, providing a rapid and simple means for providing protection. In an earlier stage of the research, this method was applied experimentally in injection form, however more recently a formula for drops has been developed (it can also be adapted for nasal sprays). The drops are to be taken two times, one week apart, in order to achieve immunity. The researchers are aiming at achieving a one-dose immunization.

In laboratory tests on mice, the new formula was found to be significantly more effective in protecting against influenza than existing, commercial vaccines. Preliminary studies with other human pathogens yielded promising results as well. Additional trials are being carried out in the laboratory before human clinical trials will be attempted.

The Kaye Innovation Awards at the Hebrew University were established in 1994 by Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, to encourage faculty, staff and students of the university to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential, which have benefited or will benefit the university and society.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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