17 Nov 2022
by Henk-Jan van den Ham & Stefan Lelieveld

Vaccine development innovation & collaboration in action: the Inno4Vac project

Early October 2022, a much-anticipated Inno4Vac meeting took place in Siena, Italy. It was the first face-to-face meeting of the whole consortium that was started in 2021. The Inno4Vac project aims to further develop vaccine technology on all fronts: from improving production facilities (VAXinS – ST4), to new in vivo and in vitro models for vaccine testing (CHIMICHURRI – ST2 and MERMAID – ST3, respectively), to prediction of good vaccine candidates (VAXPRED – ST1). ENPICOM is participating in the last subtopic, which is part of the project focusing on the application of AI to build a pipeline for rational vaccine design.

So, what does that mean? This project aims to build a cloud-based computational pipeline that predicts the (protein) component of a pathogen that is the best choice for designing a vaccine against (aka epitope). The pipeline will take many aspects of the immune response into account, including a person’s genetic immune background (HLA-type & antigen processing), their potential to generate immune responses against a pathogen (adaptive immune repertoire), and the internal dynamics of raising an immune response against a particular pathogen (germinal center models).

For building this vaccine prediction pipeline, a diverse and interdisciplinair team of people has been brought together to cover all of the expertises needed. Some of us had met before, but for many this was the first time to meet in real life. We listened to lots of interesting talks, had many fruitful discussions and drafted plans for the time to come. In the evenings, we met up with our colleagues to talk about science and other aspects of life, some more over dinner.

This first face-to-face Inno4Vac meeting took place at the University of Siena, located in the historic center of this beautiful ancient city. Siena turns out to have a considerable history when it comes to vaccine research as well. More than a century ago, professor of public hygiene Achille Sclavo founded the Sclavo Institute on the outskirts of the city, which went on to become a major vaccine research and production site (now part of GSK). As part of the programme, we visited a small museum at the site of the original Sclavo Institute that provides an interesting overview of how vaccine research developed in Siena and how it impacted the local community; highly recommended for history of science aficionados! @techies: don’t miss the VR experience that gives you an insight into modern vaccine production facilities, we had lots of fun with that!

Although the meeting schedule was well-filled, we did manage to squeeze in a visit to the Duomo di Siena – the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. We are not even going to try to describe its beauty, you will just have to pay it a visit yourself. All-in-all, we had an excellent meeting with our Inno4Vac colleagues, and we look forward to working on this project in the coming year – until next year’s meeting!

The Inno4Vac project is an IMI2 project including both academic, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and big Pharma partners. ENPICOM, represented by Henk-Jan van den Ham and Stefan Lelieveld, participate in subtopic ST1 (VAXPRED). Academic partners in this subtopic are Victor Greiff (UiO), Morten Nielsen (DTU), Michael Meier-Hermann (HZi), Artur Rocha and Ademar Aguiar (INESC-TEC) and subtopic co-lead Gunnveig Grodelund (UiO). The industry co-lead is Guglielmo Roma from GSK. The project is set to run from 2021-2026.

This project has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No 101007799. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA.