Clinically approved fungal vaccine protects against fungal infections

A new vaccine developed by the University of Georgia might be the first clinically approved immunization to safeguard against invasive fungal infections, which are becoming more common as antifungal drug resistance grows.

Clinically approved fungal vaccine protects against fungal infections
The new vaccine is designed to protect against the three most common fungal pathogens that are responsible for more than 80% of fatal fungal infections. Image Credit: Getty Images.

Every year, fungal infections kill over 1.5 million people and cost billions. According to a prior UGA study, they also double hospitalization costs, length of hospital stays, and risk of death in hospitalized patients.

However, there are currently no effective vaccines available to protect vulnerable patients from fungal infections.

There’s a significant unmet clinical need for this kind of prevention and also treatment, particularly among immunocompromised individuals. The patient population at risk for invasive fungal infections has increased significantly over the last several years.”

Karen Norris, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia

The experimental vaccine is aimed to safeguard against the three most common fungal pathogens, which cause more than 80% of fatal fungal infections. The vaccine’s efficacy was evaluated in four preclinical animal models, including nonhuman primates.

For the study, the researchers used various immunosuppressed models with drug regimens similar to those used by transplant recipients, HIV patients, and cancer patients, who are among the most vulnerable human populations.

In each of the models, the vaccine was helpful in enhancing protective antibodies.

Because it targets three different pathogens, the vaccine has the potential to be groundbreaking regarding invasive fungal infections. Plans are underway to develop the vaccine for a Phase I (human) safety trial.”

Karen Norris, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia

Norris is also faculty in the university’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology.

More people at risk of fungal infections than just immunocompromised

Fungal infections are most common in people with immune disorders, such as those with uncontrolled HIV or those who have had their immunity compromised by therapies such as chemotherapy or anti-inflammatories.

However, past research from Norris, postdoctoral fellow Emily Rayens, and José Cordero of the College of Public Health in 2022 revealed that the at-risk population has grown in recent years.

Individuals with diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or co-infections such as COVID-19, tuberculosis, or flu are also at a higher risk of developing fungal infections, according to the findings of the study.

The first line of defense is usually azole treatment, which is a broad-spectrum anti-fungal medication. However, antifungal resistance is increasing. As a result, fungal infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat, making prevention even more important, according to Norris.

The new vaccine is designed to combat the three most common fungal infections: Aspergillus, Candida, and Pneumocystis. Candida is becoming a growing source of concern in the healthcare world as different strains of the fungus develop multidrug resistance.

In animal models, the vaccine demonstrated broad, cross-protective antifungal immunity, which bodes well for future clinical trials.

This is an area that has been underdeveloped on the research front for a long time. These are very large populations of people who are at risk of invasive fungal infections, and although there has been considerable efforts to develop vaccines, none are yet approved. We believe this is a very strong vaccine candidate.”

Karen Norris, Professor, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia

Norris is also the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Immunology and Translational Biomedicine.

Source:
Journal reference:

Rayens, E., et al. (2022) Immunogenicity and protective efficacy of a pan-fungal vaccine in preclinical models of aspergillosis, candidiasis, and pneumocystosis. PNAS Nexus. doi.org/10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac248.

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