New Vaccine Ingredient May Battle COVID, Other Illnesses Including HIV: Study

A combination-style vaccine ingredient may help to make coronavirus vaccines and other inoculations more successful at staving off disease, according to a new study from researchers at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The study, which was published on December 3 in the journal Science Immunology, found that a new combination adjuvant—or type of ingredient that can allow vaccines to create a stronger immune response—may boost the effectiveness of inoculations ranging from HIV to COVID-19.

According to LJI, adjuvants act as "red flags" that lead the immune system to react more strongly to antigens and develop the necessary cells for the body to fight off disease.

For the study, scientists self-assembled a new type of adjuvant called SMNP using a combination of two molecules, known as saponin and TLR agonists.

According to the study, saponin adjuvants have already been approved for use in shingles vaccines, while TLR agonists are known for stimulating an immune response when an antigen is first detected.

When combined, the scientists found that the molecules work together to activate multiple levels of the immune system—which could ultimately help vaccines become even more protective against disease.

"[The] combination works so well because it activates so many different parts of the immune system," LJI said in a press release. "While saponin and the TLR agonist have their jobs, combining them also prompts the immune system to make more types of T follicular helper cells, which strengthen the immune response, and more interleukin-21, an antiviral molecule," it added.

The study was conducted on mice and appeared to be safe and effective so far. Researchers said the SMNP adjuvant still has a ways to go before it could be implemented in future vaccines, but they are hoping the ingredient could eventually help a range of inoculations.

"This is super exciting," said LJI Professor Dr. Shane Crotty, a member of the LJI Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research. "We're really hoping this adjuvant can help out."

"This has, potentially, a big impact for human health," he added.

New Vaccine Ingredient May Help COVID shot
Scientists found that a new vaccine ingredient may help COVID-19 vaccines and other inoculations become more successful at fighting disease. Here, used vials of COVID-19 vaccines are seen at the Thornton Fire Department on March 6 in Thornton, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

According to the LJI, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved five adjuvants for use in the U.S. However, researchers on the study said it is imperative for scientists to continue developing and understanding these ingredients in order to create more effective vaccines.

"New adjuvants that help drive particular aspects of antibody or T cell-mediated immunity may be an important part of successfully developing vaccines against challenging pathogens such as HIV, TB, and malaria," added study co-leader and MIT professor Dr. Darrell Irvine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adjuvants are currently used in vaccines to prevent diseases ranging from HPV, the flu, shingles and hepatitis B.

"Vaccines containing adjuvants are tested for safety and effectiveness in clinical trials before they are licensed for use in the United States, and they are continuously monitored by CDC and FDA once they are approved," the CDC said on its website.