The Weizmann Institute of Science pursues a host of health and medicine research, finding ways to understand and treat diseases large and small. But what if, instead of fighting an illness after it strikes, we could prevent it in the first place?

Several of Weizmann’s creative, innovative scientists are aiming to do just that by developing vaccines that target conditions from the flu to the aging brain:

  • Universal flu vaccine. Ruth Arnon, renowned co-developer of Copaxone®, one of the world’s leading multiple sclerosis drugs, has developed a flu vaccine that is now in clinical trials. (Interestingly, Copaxone® itself appears to act as a broad vaccinefor the entire immune system.)

    Influenza vaccines are trickier than one might think: flu strains emerge or change every year, so health organizations must predict, far ahead of time, which variants will be a problem and then rush to develop and manufacture vaccines accordingly. When they get it wrong, people get sick, even die. This annual onslaught also means that we must get vaccinated anew each flu season.

    Prof. Arnon has pioneered a drug therapy that uses synthetic peptides—short chains of amino acids—to stimulate an immune response. Her universal flu vaccine, licensed to BiondVax and now entering Phase III trials, could protect us against all strains of the virus, for many years, in a single shot.

  • Cancer-fighting vaccine. After finding several protein fragments that were increased in tumors, Prof. Lea Eisenbach used them to create a vaccine that, in mice, eliminated lung cancer and other tumors. To further develop the inoculation, she and her colleagues outfitted dendritic cells with the protein fragments; the dendritic cells migrated to the lymph nodes and activated the immune system against cancer, priming it into attacking a tumor it previously did not recognize.

  • Vaccine to slow brain aging. Neuroimmunity pioneer Prof. Michal Schwartz and colleague Prof. Ido Amit developed an antibody that helps restore cognitive abilities and brain cells in mice with Alzheimer’s, thus actually reversing some of the effects of aging on the brain and reducing the level of plaques. The two scientists are now developing this research into a vaccine to slow the brain’s aging process and the progress of Alzheimer’s.

  • Vision-protecting vaccine. Schwartz was also the first to propose that glaucoma could benefit from a neuroprotection approach: the use of vaccines to protect against immune-system overreaction. She developed a vaccine that, in mice, stopped vision degeneration. Prof. Schwartz’s findings also indicate that vaccines may be able to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

  • Malaria vaccine where it’s needed. Malaria vaccines are problematic: mostly used in impoverished, underdeveloped countries with tropical climates, they are expensive to produce and become unstable when not refrigerated. But Dr. Sarel Fleishman’s research offers hope: his new method of programming proteins could lead to a vaccine that is inexpensive and stable, even in a hot environment. Furthermore, he says, the vaccine’s flexibility means that “it might be applied to emerging infectious diseases like Zika or Ebola, when quick action can stop an epidemic from developing.”

In addition to creating specific vaccines, Institute scientists are investigating ways to improve the vaccination process. A recent collaboration with University College London revealed how certain immune cells decide which roles to play. This could point the way to better strategies for vaccination – including against diseases for which there are no effective vaccines.

Improving Health & Medicine

Stopping Disease with Smarter Vaccines

E-news, August 2018 • TAGS: Virus, Biology, Immune system, Proteins

The Weizmann Institute of Science pursues a host of health and medicine research, finding ways to understand and treat diseases large and small. But what if, instead of fighting an illness after it strikes, we could prevent it in the first place?

Several of Weizmann’s creative, innovative scientists are aiming to do just that by developing vaccines that target conditions from the flu to the aging brain:

  • Universal flu vaccine. Ruth Arnon, renowned co-developer of Copaxone®, one of the world’s leading multiple sclerosis drugs, has developed a flu vaccine that is now in clinical trials. (Interestingly, Copaxone® itself appears to act as a broad vaccinefor the entire immune system.)

    Influenza vaccines are trickier than one might think: flu strains emerge or change every year, so health organizations must predict, far ahead of time, which variants will be a problem and then rush to develop and manufacture vaccines accordingly. When they get it wrong, people get sick, even die. This annual onslaught also means that we must get vaccinated anew each flu season.

    Prof. Arnon has pioneered a drug therapy that uses synthetic peptides—short chains of amino acids—to stimulate an immune response. Her universal flu vaccine, licensed to BiondVax and now entering Phase III trials, could protect us against all strains of the virus, for many years, in a single shot.

  • Cancer-fighting vaccine. After finding several protein fragments that were increased in tumors, Prof. Lea Eisenbach used them to create a vaccine that, in mice, eliminated lung cancer and other tumors. To further develop the inoculation, she and her colleagues outfitted dendritic cells with the protein fragments; the dendritic cells migrated to the lymph nodes and activated the immune system against cancer, priming it into attacking a tumor it previously did not recognize.

  • Vaccine to slow brain aging. Neuroimmunity pioneer Prof. Michal Schwartz and colleague Prof. Ido Amit developed an antibody that helps restore cognitive abilities and brain cells in mice with Alzheimer’s, thus actually reversing some of the effects of aging on the brain and reducing the level of plaques. The two scientists are now developing this research into a vaccine to slow the brain’s aging process and the progress of Alzheimer’s.

  • Vision-protecting vaccine. Schwartz was also the first to propose that glaucoma could benefit from a neuroprotection approach: the use of vaccines to protect against immune-system overreaction. She developed a vaccine that, in mice, stopped vision degeneration. Prof. Schwartz’s findings also indicate that vaccines may be able to treat age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

  • Malaria vaccine where it’s needed. Malaria vaccines are problematic: mostly used in impoverished, underdeveloped countries with tropical climates, they are expensive to produce and become unstable when not refrigerated. But Dr. Sarel Fleishman’s research offers hope: his new method of programming proteins could lead to a vaccine that is inexpensive and stable, even in a hot environment. Furthermore, he says, the vaccine’s flexibility means that “it might be applied to emerging infectious diseases like Zika or Ebola, when quick action can stop an epidemic from developing.”

In addition to creating specific vaccines, Institute scientists are investigating ways to improve the vaccination process. A recent collaboration with University College London revealed how certain immune cells decide which roles to play. This could point the way to better strategies for vaccination – including against diseases for which there are no effective vaccines.