Pharmacy professor develops novel virus-like particle platform for vaccine delivery

KINGSTON, R.I. — August 30, 2021 — A URI College of Pharmacy professor has developed a novel virus-like particle platform to safely and more effectively deliver vaccines to the body, a next step in the potential development of a universal flu vaccine and a new coronavirus vaccine.

Dr. Xinyuan Chen recently received a $200,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue research into his novel vaccine platform and develop new vaccines using the safer method of delivery. The platform includes the use of flagellin, a natural protein that is used as a carrier for vaccines, and which also is an agonist that stimulates an immune response. Flagellin can sometimes overstimulate the immune system, but Chen has discovered that by applying the flagellin to the surface of the virus-like particle, the body’s immune system reacts more strongly to the vaccine without being overstimulated.

“Our human body has a mechanism to recognize pathogens. By developing the vaccine with virus-like particles, our bodies can more strongly respond to that type of vaccine,” Chen said. “Virus-like particles don’t replicate inside the body, so they are very safe. If you put the virus in, it could potentially revert to its infectious status, maybe in the immunocompromised population. So the virus-like particle is a highly immunogenic, safe vaccine platform.”

Chen has a patent pending for the new vaccine platform, which his lab will use to attempt development of a universal flu vaccine that would protect against multiple strains of the flu, instead of the individual strains the annual vaccine currently protects against.

“The universal flu vaccine is a concept that would allow us to protect multiple viral strains,” Chen said. “Proteins are the functional components of our cells. When the virus mutates, not all parts of the protein mutate. So we have found there are some regions of the protein that are highly conserved; they are not mutating from year to year. So from that conserved region, we are potentially able to develop a universal vaccine.”