The development of safe, effective, and affordable vaccines has become a global effort due to its vast impact on overall world health conditions. In this paper, a brief overview of vaccine characterization techniques, especially in the area of high-resolution mass spectrometry, is presented. It is highly conceivable that the proper use of advanced technologies such as high-resolution mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance, along with the appropriate chemical and physical property evaluations, will yield tremendous in-depth scientific understanding for the characterization of vaccines in various stages of vaccine development. In addition, this approach can potentially be more efficient and effective for supporting vaccine research and development.
In general, vaccines are a very heterogeneous group of preventative medicines with an increasingly wide variety of adjuvants used in their formulation. Some of these adjuvant components can cause unwanted side reactions in the vaccinated individual that in some cases can result in serious complications. These complications are generally monitored as part of the potency and toxicity testing of vaccines in animal or other cell-based models, and are the surveillance responsibilities of health care providers once the vaccines are released. As greater characterization of vaccines becomes more prevalent, it may be possible to connect structural changes in the vaccine components with lost potency and increased toxicity issues. This, in turn, may provide a better understanding of how certain vaccines function and interact with the immune system. Information gained in this area will undoubtedly improve the effectiveness and safety of future vaccines above today's already high standards.
Vaccines can be broken down into three major categories: live vaccines, killed or attenuated vaccines, and component vaccines. The third type, the component vaccines, are generally the most easily characterized of the three. They usually consist of a relatively small number of immunogenic molecules and an adjuvant system, which is often well defined. The other two vaccine types include complex biological components such as attenuated or killed viruses and intact bacteria or multiple bacterial components. The characterization of these vaccines typically focuses on the adjuvants used to improve effectiveness. Advances in proteomics make the characterization of even these difficult vaccines more manageable.