Adjuvants May Help Produce a More Effective COVID-19 Vaccine

Posted on January 05, 2021

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Clinical trials are seeing an impressive count of the COVID-19 vaccine in development, the total number currently hovering at more than two dozen. The common denominator in all these? A single protein named spike (S). What differentiates them is how they distribute this protein, as well as the presence of a little-known molecule used to stimulate immune response: adjuvants.

Why Adjuvants Could Be Game-Changing

Being the special molecule they are, and with their immune response properties, it might seem intuitive for adjuvants to show up in vaccines. However, for many of the first-run vaccine candidates, this wasn’t the case. The reason behind adjuvants’ absence in early COVID-19 vaccine contenders? Time. It would have cost valuable time to add them to the mix.

However, adjuvants are anything but yesterday’s news. As COVID-19 vaccines continue to be produced, researchers have circled back to them as a potential vaccine contributor. In fact, adjuvants might just boost otherwise so-so vaccines. Vaccines have a competitive threshold: protect at least half of the population to be considered effective. Of course, the higher the percentage of people protected, the better. If adjuvants can bump that percentage up ten points, or activate healthy antibody levels, they’d be worth the trouble introducing into a vaccine.

Adjuvants Are Showing Promise

Preclinical studies have corroborated much of researchers’ enthusiasm regarding adjuvants. Many virus vaccines (for instance ones approved for hepatitis B and shingles) transmit protein directly into a person’s body.

However, this approach requires a bit of assistance to induce an immune system response. While mRNA and DNA-based vaccines—take Pfizer’s or Moderna’s, for example—can prompt a response on their own, protein-based ones can’t. They go largely unnoticed. An adjuvant molecule remedies this.

Adjuvants Have a History

The other great thing about adjuvants? They’ve been around—at least in some form—since the 1920s. Adjuvant research has also hit its stride in recent years. The 21st century ushered in a golden era for adjuvants, with newer versions coming in waves. While these new ones currently run the show in COVID-19 vaccination, a historic adjuvant staple might still carve out its own immunization claim: aluminum-based or alum. This is due to the nature of vaccines and their relation to adjuvants, with the right fit oftentimes chalked up to simple trial and error.

The final round of good news is this: pharmaceutical companies are sharing their proprietary adjuvants with others to combat COVID-19. What would have once been held tightly under wraps is now openly poured into vital preclinical studies for public health’s sake. Looking for further information about the COVID-19 vaccine, the role adjuvants might play, and more? Tune into Avanti, the intersection of cutting edge research, high-quality products, and innovative development.