Biological challenges and technological opportunities for respiratory syncytial virus vaccine development


Barney S. Graham
Vaccine Research Center
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
National Institutes of Health
40 Convent Drive
Building 40
Room 2502
Bethesda, MD 20892-3017
Tel.: +1 301 594 8468
Fax: +1 301 480 2771


Summary:  Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an important cause of respiratory disease causing high rates of hospitalizations in infants, significant morbidity in children and adults, and excess mortality in the elderly. Major barriers to vaccine development include early age of RSV infection, capacity of RSV to evade innate immunity, failure of RSV-induced adaptive immunity to prevent reinfection, history of RSV vaccine-enhanced disease, and lack of an animal model fully permissive to human RSV infection. These biological challenges, safety concerns, and practical issues have significantly prolonged the RSV vaccine development process. One great advantage compared to other difficult viral vaccine targets is that passively administered neutralizing monoclonal antibody is known to protect infants from severe RSV disease. Therefore, the immunological goals for vaccine development are to induce effective neutralizing antibody to prevent infection and to avoid inducing T-cell response patterns associated with enhanced disease. Live-attenuated RSV and replication-competent chimeric viruses are in advanced clinical trials. Gene-based strategies, which can control the specificity and phenotypic properties of RSV-specific T-cell responses utilizing replication-defective vectors and which may improve on immunity from natural infection, are progressing through preclinical testing. Atomic level structural information on RSV envelope glycoproteins in complex with neutralizing antibodies is guiding design of new vaccine antigens that may be able to elicit RSV-specific antibody responses without induction of RSV-specific T-cell responses. These new technologies may allow development of vaccines that can protect against RSV-mediated disease in infants and establish a new immunological paradigm in the host to achieve more durable protection against reinfection.