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Keywords:

  • capsomere;
  • computational;
  • epitope;
  • modular;
  • synthetic biology;
  • vaccine

ABSTRACT

Virus-like particle (VLP) technology seeks to harness the optimally tuned immunostimulatory properties of natural viruses while omitting the infectious trait. VLPs that assemble from a single protein have been shown to be safe and highly efficacious in humans, and highly profitable. VLPs emerging from basic research possess varying levels of complexity and comprise single or multiple proteins, with or without a lipid membrane. Complex VLP assembly is traditionally orchestrated within cells using black-box approaches, which are appropriate when knowledge and control over assembly are limited. Recovery challenges including those of adherent and intracellular contaminants must then be addressed. Recent commercial VLPs variously incorporate steps that include VLP in vitro assembly to address these problems robustly, but at the expense of process complexity. Increasing research activity and translation opportunity necessitate bioengineering advances and new bioprocessing modalities for efficient and cost-effective production of VLPs. Emerging approaches are necessarily multi-scale and multi-disciplinary, encompassing diverse fields from computational design of molecules to new macro-scale purification materials. In this review, we highlight historical and emerging VLP vaccine approaches. We overview approaches that seek to specifically engineer a desirable immune response through modular VLP design, and those that seek to improve bioprocess efficiency through inhibition of intracellular assembly to allow optimal use of existing purification technologies prior to cell-free VLP assembly. Greater understanding of VLP assembly and increased interdisciplinary activity will see enormous progress in VLP technology over the coming decade, driven by clear translational opportunity. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2014;111: 425–440. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.