Background: Vaccination is a cost-effective counter-measure to the threat of seasonal or pandemic outbreaks of influenza. To address the need for improved influenza vaccines and alternatives to egg-based manufacturing, we have engineered an influenza virus-like particle (VLP) as a new generation of non-egg or non-mammalian cell culture-based candidate vaccine.
Methodology/principal findings: We generated from a baculovirus expression system using insect cells, a non-infectious recombinant VLP vaccine from both influenza A H5N1 clade 1 and clade 2 isolates with pandemic potential. VLPs were administered to mice in either a one-dose or two-dose regimen and the immune responses were compared to those induced by recombinant hemagglutinin (rHA). Both humoral and cellular responses were analyzed. Mice vaccinated with VLPs were protected against challenge with lethal reassortant viruses expressing the H5N1 HA and NA, regardless if the H5N1 clade was homologous or heterologous to the vaccine. However, rHA-vaccinated mice showed considerable weight loss and death following challenge with the heterovariant clade virus. Protection against death induced by VLPs was independent of the pre-challenge HAI titer or cell-mediated responses to HA or M1 since vaccinated mice, with low to undetectable cross-clade HAI antibodies or cellular responses to influenza antigens, were still protected from a lethal viral challenge. However, an apparent association rate of antibody binding to HA correlated with protection and was enhanced using VLPs, particularly when delivered intranasally, compared to rHA vaccines.
Conclusion/significance: This is the first report describing the use of an H5N1 VLP vaccine created from a clade 2 isolate. The results show that a non-replicating virus-like particle is effective at eliciting a broadened, cross-clade protective immune response to proteins from emerging H5N1 influenza isolates giving rise to a potential pandemic influenza vaccine candidate for humans that can be stockpiled for use in the event of an outbreak of H5N1 influenza.