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On the Horizon: Diseases Targeted for Vaccine Development

While vaccines may be the greatest public health success story of all time, there remain many serious illnesses for which no vaccines exist and others for which current vaccines offer limited protection. The Wistar Institute Vaccine Center is responding to the urgent need for new and improved vaccines, in the United States and around the globe, by targeting the following life-threatening diseases.


A Response to an Epidemic

According to the World Health Organization, some 40 million people are living with HIV worldwide. The epidemic is growing, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than two-thirds of all new infections occurred in 2006. An HIV vaccine approach developed by Wistar scientists has shown promise in animal studies, and researchers are now pursuing funding for human clinical trials. The experimental vaccines take advantage of sophisticated biotechnologies and the special characteristics of a class of viruses called adenoviruses to create a series of vaccines that, when given in sequence, generate a stronger immune response than might otherwise be possible.


Seeking a Universal Flu Solution

Influenza viruses are estimated to be associated with 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths annually in the United States, as well as hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. Wistar researchers hope to create a universal vaccine that would work against all strains of influenza. Current “flu” vaccines have to be redesigned annually to account for evolving variations of the virus and are not always effective. A universal vaccine would eliminate this problem and protect against a flu pandemic, which occurs when a new strain of flu emerges that is both deadly and highly contagious. The 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. Notably, a universal influenza vaccine would protect people from the avian influenza virus, as well as other emerging strains of flu.


Help for the Developing World

Wistar already has developed a human vaccine effective for protecting against rabies and for preventing infection when administered as part of post-exposure treatment. The Institute also has developed a wildlife vaccine. Wistar researchers now aim to develop a human vaccine better suited for the developing world, where some 55,000 people, mostly children, still die from this lethal but preventable virus each year. The scientists will strive to create a vaccine that is affordable, can be given in a single dose, and will work better under the conditions found in these regions.


Meeting a Mosquito-Borne Menace

According to the World Health Organization, a million people die each year of malaria — most of them children living in Africa. In the United States, more than 1,000 new cases are reported each year by travelers returning from malaria-endemic areas. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease, which is borne by mosquitoes, and drugs used to treat malaria are becoming less effective as the parasite that causes the illness adapts to them. Wistar researchers are collaborating with colleagues at Oxford University to develop a vaccine against this deadly disease.

Hepatitis C

Combating a Public Health Threat

The hepatitis C virus infects 3 to 4 million people each year and causes chronic liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. A blood-borne infection, hepatitis C is thought to be responsible for two-thirds of liver transplants worldwide. With no vaccine to prevent the disease, hepatitis C constitutes an increasing public health concern. Without more effective therapies, deaths due to the virus are predicted to double or triple in the next 15 to 20 years. Collaborating with colleagues at Emory University, Wistar scientists are working to combat the virus. The researchers are exploring the possibility of creating a therapeutic vaccine that would be given to people infected with hepatitis C to help their immune systems fight the virus.

Cancer and Autoimmune Diseases

The Leading Edge of Vaccine Research

Wistar researchers are making remarkable strides toward creating effective vaccine therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases. Combining a deep understanding of the immune system and leading-edge skills with recombinant genetic technologies, Wistar leads a wide-ranging vaccine development program that encompasses treatment vaccines against colorectal cancer, melanoma, and human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. In addition, Institute scientists’ depth of autoimmune expertise informs their development of novel new therapies for autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.