Principal Investigator Robert K. Ernst, PhD, Dr. Paul and Mrs. Jean Corcoran Endowed Professor and chair of the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis in the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) and Distinguished University Professor, has been awarded a five-year, $9.4 million contract from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to continue work developing and testing novel adjuvants for improvement of vaccines. Ernst was awarded $6.4 million in funding through the same NIAID program in 2018, bringing his total funding for adjuvant development to over $16 million.
Adjuvants are added vaccine ingredients that enhance the body's immune response. The word “adjuvant” is derived from the Latin verb “to help or aid.” Ernst’s patented technology, bacterial enzymatic combinatorial chemistry (BECC) harnesses the power of microbiology to generate innovative adjuvants with the ability to aid protection from a variety of antigens. These BECC adjuvants show increased antibody production, improve T-cell activation, and extend the durability of vaccine protection compared to existing adjuvants.
Ernst will serve as the program director and lead teams of researchers from the School of Dentistry and The University of Maryland School of Medicine as well as external collaborators from the University of Missouri and Washington University in St. Louis. Researchers will evaluate BECC adjuvants with Influenza, Staphylococcus, and Pseudomonas antigens for preclinical testing in adult and elderly populations over the next five years. Studies will evaluate efficacy, safety, and manufacturability. The researchers will use empirical testing and data-driven decisions to select the most promising vaccine formulations for further development.
“We want to help augment the response to some of these adjuvants that have been around for more than 100 years,” said Ernst. “The goal is to generate a high-efficacy, cost-effective adjuvant that, when formulated in component vaccines, can be used to combat the global health burden of a wide range of human pathogens."