Amyris, IDRI to Engineer Molecules for Vaccine Adjuvant Applications

February 14, 2019

The companies will use a $4.4-million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to discover sustainable alternatives to shark squalene to use as vaccine adjuvants.

On Feb. 12, 2019, Amyris, an integrated renewable products company, announced that it has been selected by the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI), a non-profit research organization focused on developing diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines for infectious diseases, to discover sustainable alternatives to shark squalene to use as vaccine adjuvants under the funding of a $4.4-million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Adjuvants are added to vaccines to enhance their effectiveness. The new project aims to discover and evaluate novel, sustainable squalene-like compounds produced by bio- or chemical engineering for vaccine adjuvant applications.

Amyris uses patented biotechnology to create squalene-like compounds using sugarcane syrup as the fermentation feedstock instead of sourcing squalene from sharks. Amyris has developed specific expertise as a manufacturer of sustainably sourced squalene. IDRI reports that it has selected Amyris and the University of Nottingham (UK) as partners because of their cost-effective success in engineering pure molecules from sustainable sources.

“While one of our goals is to find a replacement for the pharmaceutical squalene derived from sharks, another key driver of this project is to understand how squalene formulations actually work as adjuvants,” said Christopher Fox, PhD, vice-president of Formulations at IDRI and principal investigator for the project, in a press release. “By generating compounds with various structural alterations, we can study the structure-function relationship of squalene-like molecules and shine a light on their mechanisms of action.”

Fox added that key attributes of adjuvants in vaccines are the ability to improve an immune response and minimize the dose of vaccine necessary to confer immunity, which is particularly important where there is a disease outbreak that results in a vaccine shortage. 

“Development of this technology could enable formulations that effectively increase the number of vaccine doses available in the event of an influenza pandemic, for example,” Fox said in the release.

Funding is provided by a bioengineering research grant aimed at bringing engineering expertise to focus on a biomedical problem and ultimately develop a new solution.

Source: Amyris