A sign of things to come

22 Jun 2010

Genomic technologies developed by A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) form the basis for a new vaccine development platform that could pave the way for cost-effective personalized therapy

Recent advances in genomic technologies are providing us with an unprecedented amount of data that could be used for vaccine development and personalized medicine.

The next generation of vaccines will be able to tap into that massive amount of genomic data on virus, bacteria, parasite and cancer peptides and match the peptides to the human host cell surface protein called major histocompatibility complex (MHC)—also known specifically as human leukocyte antigen (HLA) in humans—to induce immunity.

Structure of an HLA molecule with a bound peptide (shown in blue, center) occupying its binding cleft. Functional side-chains groups from the HLA (in brown) and peptide (in green) interact to produce a stable complex.

Structure of an HLA molecule with a bound peptide (shown in blue, center) occupying its binding cleft. Functional side-chains groups from the HLA (in brown) and peptide (in green) interact to produce a stable complex.

Ren Ee Chee at the Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) has developed a T-cell epitope discovery platform technology that allows the high-throughput identification of immunogenic fragments of disease-causing agents that could stimulate an immune response. The advantage of this Personalized Peptide Vaccine (PPV) platform is that it matches an individual’s specific genomic makeup with the disease strains in question to determine the likelihood of an immune response.

Ren has created a spin-off company, Rhapsody Biologics, with an exclusive license from Exploit Technologies to further pursue this idea. The company has attracted the attention of a seasoned entrepreneur, Richard P. Kivel, who is also chairman of the MIT Enterprise Forum and associate professor at the Sloan School of Management, to be its chairman and CEO.

Peptide vaccines target particular fragments of a disease-causing agent to which a protective response can be developed. The advantages of a peptide vaccine include eliminating the need to inject a live or attenuated virus into the patient, and substantially lower manufacturing costs. The peptide approach is tightly linked to particular HLA alleles, so a mixture or cocktail of peptides can be defined to be effective at inducing protective immunity in different populations.

By pin-pointing the specific antigenic epitopes that bind to the HLA molecule and initiate an immune response, specific epitopes that are known to bind to the targeted HLA types can be included to produce more effective vaccines that generate a stronger immune response. At the same time, irrelevant portions of the candidate vaccine that could cause side effects or non-specific immune response can be excluded from the final vaccine design.


Vaccine development companies will also be able to simulate clinical response scenarios using Rhapsody Biologics’ technologies. The overall impact of the T-cell epitope discovery platform will be to bring the vaccine development industry into the age of personalized medicine. As the field of peptide vaccines grows, the need for a predictive method to create optimal peptides will also increase. The proposition Rhapsody Biologics brings to the table is to create a series of more efficacious vaccines for diverse indications, encompassing both cancer therapy and infectious diseases. As the overall development cost for launching a new vaccine can exceed half a billion US dollars, Rhapsody Biologics’ technology platform will help reduce cycle development time for vaccine companies and greatly improve the odds of delivering a successful and effective vaccine.

About the Singapore Immunology Network

The Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) was launched by A*STAR with the aim of expanding and strengthening immunology research in Singapore by advancing human immunology research and participating in international efforts to combat major health problems. Researchers at SIgN investigate immunity during infections and inflammatory conditions, including cancer, using mouse models and human tissue. Since its launch, SIgN has grown rapidly, and currently includes around 150 scientists from 25 countries working under 20 renowned principal investigators and supported by cutting-edge technological research platforms and core services.

About Rhapsody Biologics

A commercialization venture spun-off from SIgN, Rhapsody Biologics is leading the shift from generic to personalized vaccine development by establishing a genomics-based vaccine peptide development platform for use by vaccine manufactures.

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This article was made for A*STAR Research by Nature Research Custom Media, part of Springer Nature