Cocktail of H5N1 COBRA HA vaccines elicit protective antibodies against H5N1 viruses from multiple clades.Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2015; 11(3):572-83.HV
Pandemic outbreaks of influenza are caused by the emergence of a pathogenic and transmissible virus to which the human population is immunologically naïve. Recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) of the H5N1 subtype are of particular concern because of the high mortality rate (60% case fatality rate) and novel subtype. In this study, we have engineered an influenza virus-like particle (VLP) that contains a synthetic, consensus-based HA molecule using a new methodology, computationally optimized broadly reactive antigen (COBRA). Three COBRA H5N1 HA proteins have been engineered based upon (1) human clade 2 H5N1 sequences, (2) human and avian clade 2 sequences, and (3) all H5N1 influenza sequences recorded between 2005-2008. Each hemagglutinin protein retained the ability to bind the appropriate receptors, as well as the ability to mediate particle fusion, following purification from a mammalian expression system. COBRA VLP vaccines were administered to mice and the humoral immune responses were compared to those induced by VLPs containing an HA derived from a primary viral isolate. Using a single vaccination (0.6 ug HA dose with an adjuvant) all animals vaccinated with COBRA clade 2 HA H5N1 VLPs had protective levels of HAI antibodies to a representative isolate from each subclade of clade 2, but lower titers against other clades. The addition of avian sequences from other clades expanded breadth of HAI antibodies to the divergent clades, but still not all of the 25 H5N1 viruses in the panel were recognized by antibodies elicited any one H5N1 COBRA VLP vaccine. Vaccination of mice with a cocktail of all 3 COBRA HA VLP vaccines, in a prime-boost regimen, elicited an average HAI titer greater than 1:40 against all 25 viruses. Collectively, our findings indicate that the elicited antibody response following VLP vaccination with all 3 COBRA HA vaccine simultaneously elicited a broadly-reactive set of antibodies that recognized H5N1 viruses from 11 H5N1 clades/subclades isolated over a 12-year span.