Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara: History, Value in Basic Research, and Current Perspectives for Vaccine Development

Adv Virus Res. 2017:97:187-243. doi: 10.1016/bs.aivir.2016.07.001. Epub 2016 Aug 1.


Safety tested Modified Vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA) is licensed as third-generation vaccine against smallpox and serves as a potent vector system for development of new candidate vaccines against infectious diseases and cancer. Historically, MVA was developed by serial tissue culture passage in primary chicken cells of vaccinia virus strain Ankara, and clinically used to avoid the undesirable side effects of conventional smallpox vaccination. Adapted to growth in avian cells MVA lost the ability to replicate in mammalian hosts and lacks many of the genes orthopoxviruses use to conquer their host (cell) environment. As a biologically well-characterized mutant virus, MVA facilitates fundamental research to elucidate the functions of poxvirus host-interaction factors. As extremely safe viral vectors MVA vaccines have been found immunogenic and protective in various preclinical infection models. Multiple recombinant MVA currently undergo clinical testing for vaccination against human immunodeficiency viruses, Mycobacterium tuberculosis or Plasmodium falciparum. The versatility of the MVA vector vaccine platform is readily demonstrated by the swift development of experimental vaccines for immunization against emerging infections such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Recent advances include promising results from the clinical testing of recombinant MVA-producing antigens of highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 or Ebola virus. This review summarizes our current knowledge about MVA as a unique strain of vaccinia virus, and discusses the prospects of exploiting this virus as research tool in poxvirus biology or as safe viral vector vaccine to challenge existing and future bottlenecks in vaccinology.

Keywords: Emergency vaccines; Infectious diseases; Poxvirus; Smallpox vaccine; Vaccine development; Viral vector vaccines; Virus–host interaction; Zoonoses.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Drug Design
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics*
  • Genetic Vectors / history
  • Genetic Vectors / metabolism
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Vaccinia virus / genetics*
  • Vaccinia virus / metabolism
  • Viral Vaccines / genetics
  • Viral Vaccines / history
  • Viral Vaccines / immunology*
  • Virus Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Virus Diseases / virology


  • Viral Vaccines