Adjuvants enhance the magnitude and the durability of the immune response to vaccines. However, there is a paucity of comparative studies on the nature of the immune responses stimulated by leading adjuvant candidates. In this study, we compared five clinically relevant adjuvants in mice-alum, AS03 (a squalene-based adjuvant supplemented with α-tocopherol), AS37 (a TLR7 ligand emulsified in alum), CpG1018 (a TLR9 ligand emulsified in alum), O/W 1849101 (a squalene-based adjuvant)-for their capacity to stimulate immune responses when combined with a subunit vaccine under clinical development. We found that all four of the adjuvant candidates surpassed alum with respect to their capacity to induce enhanced and durable antigen-specific antibody responses. The TLR-agonist-based adjuvants CpG1018 (TLR9) and AS37 (TLR7) induced Th1-skewed CD4+ T cell responses, while alum, O/W, and AS03 induced a balanced Th1/Th2 response. Consistent with this, adjuvants induced distinct patterns of early innate responses. Finally, vaccines adjuvanted with AS03, AS37, and CpG1018/alum-induced durable neutralizing-antibody responses and significant protection against the B.1.351 variant 7 months following immunization. These results, together with our recent results from an identical study in non-human primates (NHPs), provide a comparative benchmarking of five clinically relevant vaccine adjuvants for their capacity to stimulate immunity to a subunit vaccine, demonstrating the capacity of adjuvanted SARS-CoV-2 subunit vaccines to provide durable protection against the B.1.351 variant. Furthermore, these results reveal differences between the widely-used C57BL/6 mouse strain and NHP animal models, highlighting the importance of species selection for future vaccine and adjuvant studies.
The development of a portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines to vaccinate the global population remains an urgent public health imperative1. Here we demonstrate the capacity of a subunit vaccine, comprising the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein receptor-binding domain displayed on an I53-50 protein nanoparticle scaffold (hereafter designated RBD-NP), to stimulate robust and durable neutralizing-antibody responses and protection against SARS-CoV-2 in rhesus macaques. We evaluated five adjuvants including Essai O/W 1849101, a squalene-in-water emulsion; AS03, an α-tocopherol-containing oil-in-water emulsion; AS37, a Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) agonist adsorbed to alum; CpG1018-alum, a TLR9 agonist formulated in alum; and alum. RBD-NP immunization with AS03, CpG1018-alum, AS37 or alum induced substantial neutralizing-antibody and CD4 T cell responses, and conferred protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection in the pharynges, nares and bronchoalveolar lavage. The neutralizing-antibody response to live virus was maintained up to 180 days after vaccination with RBD-NP in AS03 (RBD-NP-AS03), and correlated with protection from infection. RBD-NP immunization cross-neutralized the B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant efficiently but showed a reduced response against the B.1.351 variant. RBD-NP-AS03 produced a 4.5-fold reduction in neutralization of B.1.351 whereas the group immunized with RBD-NP-AS37 produced a 16-fold reduction in neutralization of B.1.351, suggesting differences in the breadth of the neutralizing-antibody response induced by these adjuvants. Furthermore, RBD-NP-AS03 was as immunogenic as a prefusion-stabilized spike immunogen (HexaPro) with AS03 adjuvant. These data highlight the efficacy of the adjuvanted RBD-NP vaccine in promoting protective immunity against SARS-CoV-2 and have led to phase I/II clinical trials of this vaccine (NCT04742738 and NCT04750343).
Subject(s)Adjuvants, Immunologic , Antibodies, Neutralizing/immunology , COVID-19 Vaccines/immunology , COVID-19/immunology , COVID-19/prevention & control , SARS-CoV-2/immunology , Vaccines, Subunit/immunology , Alum Compounds , Animals , Antibodies, Viral/immunology , CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes/cytology , CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes/immunology , COVID-19/virology , Clinical Trials, Phase I as Topic , Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic , Disease Models, Animal , Immunity, Cellular , Immunity, Humoral , Macaca mulatta/immunology , Male , Oligodeoxyribonucleotides , Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus/chemistry , Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus/immunology , Squalene
The COVID-19 pandemic is a worldwide health emergency which calls for an unprecedented race for vaccines and treatment. In developing a COVID-19 vaccine, we applied technology previously used for MERS-CoV to produce a prefusion-stabilized SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, S-2P. To enhance immunogenicity and mitigate the potential vaccine-induced immunopathology, CpG 1018, a Th1-biasing synthetic toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) agonist was selected as an adjuvant candidate. S-2P in combination with CpG 1018 and aluminum hydroxide (alum) was found to be the most potent immunogen and induced high titer of neutralizing antibodies in sera of immunized mice against pseudotyped lentivirus reporter or live wild-type SARS-CoV-2. In addition, the antibodies elicited were able to cross-neutralize pseudovirus containing the spike protein of the D614G variant, indicating the potential for broad spectrum protection. A marked Th1 dominant response was noted from cytokines secreted by splenocytes of mice immunized with CpG 1018 and alum. No vaccine-related serious adverse effects were found in the dose-ranging study in rats administered single- or two-dose regimens of S-2P combined with CpG 1018 alone or CpG 1018 with alum. These data support continued development of CHO-derived S-2P formulated with CpG 1018 and alum as a candidate vaccine to prevent COVID-19 disease.