Auburn University professor’s vaccine platform gives immune systems a boost

Bernhard Kaltenboeck, professor of pathobiology in Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and research associate Erfan Chowdhury have developed a new vaccine platform that could treat intracellular diseases like cancer and HIV.AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Dr. Bernhard Kaltenboeck, professor of pathobiology in Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and research associates Erfan Chowdhury and Yihang Li have developed a vaccine platform to treat intracellular diseases for which antibodies are ineffective.

When someone receives a vaccine, it usually means they are trying to build up antibodies toward a disease they do not want to get. For centuries, the approach has worked to prevent the spread of, or even eliminate, many diseases. However, antibodies are insufficient in preventing many other diseases.

“Some diseases occur primarily inside cells,” said Kaltenboeck. “Perhaps it’s a virus that harbors inside of cells, or small bacteria that infect cells as opposed to the surface of tissue, or a cancer. Antibodies are ineffective in these situations. What’s needed is a cellular immune response that can remove these diseased cells.”

To achieve that goal, Kaltenboeck, Chowdhury and Li detoured from tradition. Typically, large doses of vaccine are given because that means more antibodies are produced. Instead, they drastically lowered the dose – less than one hundredth of one percent as compared to traditional vaccines. This created a response by the body’s immune cells, which is exactly what is needed for intracellular diseases. Such a response can serve as a preventive measure or as a way to treat chronic infections.

Further, the approach uses only short, synthetic protein fragments, or peptides, from the disease target. Current approaches to create a cellular response involve using actual pathogens, in whole or in part, in the vaccine formulation. By creating a fully manmade vaccine, the Auburn platform should prove to be not only safer, but also much less expensive.

The list of diseases that could benefit from the approach includes malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, dengue fever and cancer. Numerous commercially significant animal diseases are also candidates. Significant further development and testing is needed to advance the technology to the market, particularly for so many targets.

“As a public institution, we’re very excited about the potential public benefit implications for this vaccine platform,” said John Weete, assistant vice president for technology transfer and commercialization at Auburn University. “When you see the list of diseases that this technology could affect, the potential societal impact becomes self-evident. While we know we’re very early in the process, we’re still very optimistic about what this could do for both global public health and worldwide food production.”

The Office of Technology Transfer has begun marketing the technology to major human and animal health companies. Nonprofit partnerships will also be pursued to seek development pathways for humanitarian targets such as malaria. The projected low cost of the vaccine opens doors for use of the platform against diseases in developing countries.

Further, given the relative simplicity of the formulations, multiple start-up companies could also be formed. Two are currently being contemplated: one for a viral infection that affects pigs and another for the bacterium Chlamydia, Kaltenboeck’s primary research interest. Long associated with being a sexually transmitted disease, Chlamydia has numerous species that produce chronic infections in humans and animals, including cattle. The vaccine platform’s effectiveness has already been demonstrated against Chlamydia in mice.

(Contributed by Brian Wright.)

Contact: Brian Wright, Office of Technology Transfer, (334) 844-7962 (, or
Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing, (334) 844-9999 (