We developed a novel intranasal influenza vaccine approach that is based on the construction of replication-deficient vaccine viruses that lack the entire NS1 gene (ΔNS1 virus). We previously showed that these viruses undergo abortive replication in the respiratory tract of animals. The local release of type I interferons and other cytokines and chemokines in the upper respiratory tract may have a “self-adjuvant effect”, in turn increasing vaccine immunogenicity. As a result, ΔNS1 viruses elicit strong B- and T- cell mediated immune responses.
We applied this technology to the development of a pandemic H5N1 vaccine candidate. The vaccine virus was constructed by reverse genetics in Vero cells, as a 5∶3 reassortant, encoding four proteins HA, NA, M1, and M2 of the A/Vietnam/1203/04 virus while the remaining genes were derived from IVR-116. The HA cleavage site was modified in a trypsin dependent manner, serving as the second attenuation factor in addition to the deleted NS1 gene. The vaccine candidate was able to grow in the Vero cells that were cultivated in a serum free medium to titers exceeding 8 log10 TCID50/ml. The vaccine virus was replication deficient in interferon competent cells and did not lead to viral shedding in the vaccinated animals. The studies performed in three animal models confirmed the safety and immunogenicity of the vaccine. Intranasal immunization protected ferrets and mice from being infected with influenza H5 viruses of different clades. In a primate model (
Our findings show that intranasal immunization with the replication deficient H5N1 ΔNS1 vaccine candidate is sufficient to induce a protective immune response against H5N1 viruses. This approach might be attractive as an alternative to conventional influenza vaccines. Clinical evaluation of ΔNS1 pandemic and seasonal influenza vaccine candidates are currently in progress.