Despite the success of currently authorized vaccines for the reduction of severe COVID-19 disease risk, rapidly emerging viral variants continue to drive pandemic waves of infection, resulting in numerous global public health challenges. Progress will depend on future advances in prophylactic vaccine activity, including advancement of candidates capable of generating more potent induction of cross-reactive T cells and durable cross-reactive antibody responses. Here we evaluated an Amphiphile (AMP) adjuvant, AMP-CpG, admixed with SARS-CoV-2 Spike receptor binding domain (RBD) immunogen, as a lymph node-targeted protein subunit vaccine (ELI-005) in mice and non-human primates (NHPs). AMP-mediated targeting of CpG DNA to draining lymph nodes resulted in comprehensive local immune activation characterized by extensive transcriptional reprogramming, inflammatory proteomic milieu, and activation of innate immune cells as key orchestrators of antigen-directed adaptive immunity. Prime-boost immunization with AMP-CpG in mice induced potent and durable T cell responses in multiple anatomical sites critical for prophylactic efficacy and prevention of severe disease. Long-lived memory responses were rapidly expanded upon re-exposure to antigen. In parallel, RBD-specific antibodies were long-lived, and exhibited cross-reactive recognition of variant RBD. AMP-CpG-adjuvanted prime-boost immunization in NHPs was safe and well tolerated, while promoting multi-cytokine-producing circulating T cell responses cross-reactive across variants of concern (VOC). Expansion of RBD-specific germinal center (GC) B cells in lymph nodes correlated to rapid seroconversion with variant-specific neutralizing antibody responses exceeding those measured in convalescent human plasma. These results demonstrate the promise of lymph-node adjuvant-targeting to coordinate innate immunity and generate robust adaptive responses critical for vaccine efficacy.
To combat the HIV epidemic and emerging threats such as SARS-CoV-2, immunization strategies are needed that elicit protection at mucosal portals of pathogen entry. Immunization directly through airway surfaces is effective in driving mucosal immunity, but poor vaccine uptake across the mucus and epithelial lining is a limitation. The major blood protein albumin is constitutively transcytosed bidirectionally across the airway epithelium through interactions with neonatal Fc receptors (FcRn). Exploiting this biology, here, we demonstrate a strategy of "albumin hitchhiking" to promote mucosal immunity using an intranasal vaccine consisting of protein immunogens modified with an amphiphilic albumin-binding polymer-lipid tail, forming amph-proteins. Amph-proteins persisted in the nasal mucosa of mice and nonhuman primates and exhibited increased uptake into the tissue in an FcRn-dependent manner, leading to enhanced germinal center responses in nasal-associated lymphoid tissue. Intranasal immunization with amph-conjugated HIV Env gp120 or SARS-CoV-2 receptor binding domain (RBD) proteins elicited 100- to 1000-fold higher antigen-specific IgG and IgA titers in the serum, upper and lower respiratory mucosa, and distal genitourinary mucosae of mice compared to unmodified protein. Amph-RBD immunization induced high titers of SARS-CoV-2-neutralizing antibodies in serum, nasal washes, and bronchoalveolar lavage. Furthermore, intranasal amph-protein immunization in rhesus macaques elicited 10-fold higher antigen-specific IgG and IgA responses in the serum and nasal mucosa compared to unmodified protein, supporting the translational potential of this approach. These results suggest that using amph-protein vaccines to deliver antigen across mucosal epithelia is a promising strategy to promote mucosal immunity against HIV, SARS-CoV-2, and other infectious diseases.