Bivalent H1 and H3 COBRA Recombinant Hemagglutinin Vaccines Elicit Seroprotective Antibodies against H1N1 and H3N2 Influenza Viruses from 2009 to 2019.J Virol. 2022 04 13; 96(7):e0165221.JV
Commercial influenza virus vaccines often elicit strain-specific immune responses and have difficulties preventing illness caused by antigenically drifted viral variants. In the last 20 years, the H3N2 component of the annual vaccine has been updated nearly twice as often as the H1N1 component, and in 2019, a mismatch between the wild-type (WT) H3N2 vaccine strain and circulating H3N2 influenza strains led to a vaccine efficacy of ∼9%. Modern methods of developing computationally optimized broadly reactive antigens (COBRAs) for H3N2 influenza viruses utilize current viral surveillance information to design more broadly reactive vaccine antigens. Here, 7 new recombinant hemagglutinin (rHA) H3 COBRA hemagglutinin (HA) antigens were evaluated in mice. Subsequently, two candidates, J4 and NG2, were selected for further testing in influenza-preimmune animals based on their ability to elicit broadly reactive antibodies against antigenically drifted H3N2 viral isolates. In the preimmune model, monovalent formulations of J4 and NG2 elicited broadly reactive antibodies against recently circulating H3N2 influenza viruses from 2019. Bivalent mixtures of COBRA H1 and H3 rHA, Y2 + J4, and Y2 + NG2 outperformed multiple WT H1+H3 bivalent rHA mixtures by eliciting seroprotective antibodies against H1N1 and H3N2 isolates from 2009 to 2019. Overall, the newly generated COBRA HA antigens, namely, Y2, J4, and NG2, had the ability to induce broadly reactive antibodies in influenza-naive and preimmune animals in both monovalent and bivalent formulations, and these antigens outperformed H1 and H3 WT rHA vaccine antigens by eliciting seroprotective antibodies against panels of antigenically drifted historical H1N1 and H3N2 vaccine strains from 2009 to 2019. IMPORTANCE Standard-of-care influenza virus vaccines are composed of a mixture of antigens from different influenza viral subtypes. For the first time, lead COBRA H1 and H3 HA antigens, formulated as a bivalent vaccine, have been investigated in animals with preexisting immunity to influenza viruses. The cocktail of COBRA HA antigens elicited more broadly reactive anti-HA antibodies than those elicited by a comparator bivalent wild-type HA vaccine against H1 and H3 influenza viruses isolated between 2009 and 2019.