Radiation-Resistant Bacteria Inspire USU-BMI Vaccine Against Polio and Emerging Superbug

Award Year 

Researchers at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) have harnessed powerful antioxidants from the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans to create a safer, more effective method of vaccine development.  (more)

A collaboration between USU and Biological Mimetics Inc. (BMI) resulted in joint intellectual property (IP) for a new polio vaccine, with a patent application with both USU and BMI inventors under prosecution management by BMI. A second joint invention, for a novel vaccine against an emerging “superbug,” the multiple drug-resistant bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii, has also resulted from this technology transfer partnership.

Deinococcus radiodurans is capable of surviving 3,000-fold more gamma radiation than humans. After discovering that these bacteria survive by accumulating powerful Mn antioxidants, the USU team harnessed this knowledge to design and patent an antioxidant-based strategy for vaccine development. The USU inactivation method combines the antioxidant with a live pathogen: When the antioxidant-pathogen mixture is exposed to supra-lethal doses of gamma rays, the genomes are destroyed but the surface proteins are protected, so the vaccine closely resembles the original shape of the virus or bacterium. 

These novel antioxidants are applied to produce inactivated vaccines with improved immunogenicity in partnership with BMI. The John W. Lowe Joint Office of Technology Transfer, which serves both USU and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation (HJF), has helped USU protect its IP while facilitating a partnership that includes USU, HJF and BMI.

The technology transfer process began with a Non-Disclosure Agreement in 2013 and has since progressed from a Material Transfer Collaboration Agreement to three distinct development projects under three Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). BMI is seeking to develop strategic industry partnerships to commercialize the polio vaccine technology, which it is calling ultraIPV (ultra inactivated poliovirus vaccine). 

The foundational IP developed by USU has far-reaching potential. In addition to the field-specific licenses with BMI (for polio and A. baumannii vaccines, thus far), there is further opportunity for many more tech transfer deals — with BMI or other potential licensees — for the development of other vaccines and additional non-vaccine applications of the powerful antioxidants developed at USU.

Although global campaigns have succeeded in eradicating wild poliovirus types 2 and 3, efforts to eradicate type 1 are ongoing. The USU-BMI technology transfer relationship may help achieve this World Health Organization goal. It could also help control outbreaks of polio vaccine-derived infections, prevent reversion of polio vaccines to a pathogenic virus, reduce costs and facilitate local manufacturing of polio vaccines in developing areas. 

There is no vaccine for A. baumannii infection, which is becoming increasingly troublesome to both military and civilian health systems, especially in intensive care units. The USU-BMI collaboration will provide a protective strategy for at-risk warfighters and patients.

Team members 
Dr. Michael Daly, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Dr. Mark Scher, The Henry M. Jackson Foundation, Dr. Gregory Tobin, Biological Mimetics, Inc.