Genocea: Message of Hope

April 4, 2008
A Message of Hope
Listen to Genocea's Message of Hope

Genocea is a vaccine development company based in Cambridge, MA. Based on nine years of research at University of California at Berkeley and Harvard Medical School, Genocea's rapid screening technology will help the U.S. lead in vaccine discovery and preparedness capabilities for infectious disease outbreaks. Genocea is currently in pre-clinical development for Chlamydia, and many other disease areas could benefit from the company's technology, such as Strep, Malaria, Hepatitis, HIV, and other complex diseases to vaccinate against.

Current Vaccine Production Environment

Methods for developing new vaccines are slow and imprecise. The common way of discovering new vaccines normally takes months, if not years, of brute force trial and error. Scientists spend months examining each of the thousands of genes that are present in a pathogen. One by one, they test every conceivable component of a pathogen to see if it causes an immune system response. Scientists have lacked the ability to precisely mimic the human immune system in the laboratory and simultaneously analyze all possible combinations of genes. Genocea's technology changes the discovery paradigm by reconstituting the human immune system and allows scientists to screen every possible vaccine candidate within hours to find the most effective formula.

Approach

Genocea and its academic colleagues have developed an approach for rapid vaccine discovery that can be optimized for infectious disease, bioterrorism agents, cancer, and autoimmune conditions. The technology has the following advantages over conventional discovery methods: 1) rapid discovery of new vaccines (hours vs. months or years using conventional technology) 2) wide disease applicability 3) improved protection from diseases and bioterrorism agents by removing the guesswork of what turns on the immune system.

Background

Vaccination was first developed in the 18th century, when it was observed that exposure to cow pox could protect individuals from contracting small pox. Immunization was originally practiced by arm-to-arm transfer of the cow pox infection, but was replaced in the early 19th century with inoculations. Vaccination works by priming the immune system with various forms of pathogen (bacteria or virus), so that when the live pathogen is encountered, a much more powerful immune response is launched which effectively kills the virus or bacteria without causing disease. Using a whole bacteria or virus to prime the immune system is not a good approach for certain high risk patient populations like children, the elderly or immunocompromised patients. Giving just the small piece of the bacteria or virus that stimulates the immune system (Genocea's method) is a far safer, and often cheaper, approach.

There are two major types of pathogens. Extracelluar pathogens such as bacteria, fungi, worms, and protozoa affect the surface of cells. When these organisms attack, the body's immune system releases cells called antibodies, also called B-cells, to clear the infection. Antibodies, however, are ineffective against eliminating more complicated intracellular pathogens such as viruses, intracellular bacteria, and intracellular protozoa. Many of the world's leading infectious diseases such as TB, AIDS, malaria, and chlamydia are caused by intracellular pathogens To clear intracellular infections, specialized cells are required that can either directly kill infected cells, or can induce the infected cells to mobilize mechanisms for killing the intracellular pathogens . These specialized cells are called T cells.

When an intracellular pathogen invades a cell it is broken into pieces. These pieces are protein fragments called antigens. Antigens are brought to the surface of the cell and act as flags that T-cells recognize. When a T-cell latches onto one of these flags it invokes an immune response to kill the disease. These specific antigens are called "immunogenic antigens", meaning they stimulate an immune response.

Genocea's technology rapidly identifies every immunogenic antigen from a pathogen that all types of T-cells recognize, including new antigens that may have emerged from new strains of a disease. These are highly valued by pharmaceutical companies and governments, and can immediately be formulated into vaccines for clinical trials.
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