SBU researchers collaborate on new polio vaccination

Dr. Jeronimo Cello, Dr. Eckard Wimmer, Dr. Benjamin Hsiao and Dr. Sean Boykevisch are working a polio vaccine in collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceuticals. (Photo Credit: Stony Brook University)

Dr. Jeronimo Cello, Dr. Eckard Wimmer, Dr. Benjamin Hsiao and Dr. Sean Boykevisch are working a polio vaccine in collaboration with Janssen Pharmaceuticals. (Photo Credit: Stony Brook University)

Stony Brook professor Dr. Eckard Wimmer and assistant research professor Dr. Jeronimo Cello have recently collaborated with Stony Brook University and Janssen Pharmaceuticals to develop an inactive polio vaccine based on highly attenuated polio viral seed strains.

According to the university’s press release, “These strains, when inactivated, have the potential to be as effective and as safe as the current activated poliovirus vaccine (IPV).”

Wimmer, who has been at Stony Brook for nearly forty years, is best known for his work on the poliovirus.

Last May, he was inducted into the National Academy of Science.

Sean Boykevisch, who facilitated the agreement between Janssen and the university, lauded Wimmer’s accomplishments and contributions to the field of virology, which include “the elucidation of the chemical structure of the poliovirus genome and the first in vitro synthesis of polio, or any organism for that matter.”

“In 2006/2007, Dr. Wimmer and Dr. Cello developed a novel poliovirus that was stably neuro-attenuated and they identified its first application as a possible therapy for the treatment of neuroblastoma,” Boykevisch said.

“[They] realized that the engineered virus can have other applications as well, such as in the manufacturing of inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and proceeded to study this application with funding from the World Health Organization,” Boykevisch said.

According to Boykevisch, higher reliance on IPV necessitates “new, safer seed viruses for its manufacture.”

Wimmer and his colleagues are working with Janssen to evaluate the seed viruses that they developed to determine if they are suitable for use in manufacturing IPV.

If so, Janssen will use the seed strains to manufacture a new inactive polio vaccine.

Current polio vaccines are made from a wild-type poliovirus, which is more dangerous and could lead to further health issues.

“There are two types of vaccine, one is called oral vaccine that you used to receive in the States, which was made of a live attenuated virus. Now it’s not given here but it is in the rest of the world,” Cello explained.

“Eventually that vaccine could mutate and give you side effects and give you paralysis.  So now [the World Health Organization] doesn’t want to use that vaccine anymore and they want to go to the inactive polio vaccine,” Cello said.

Cello said he, Wimmer, the university, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals are each making a contribution towards this project to develop the vaccine.

“We use the laboratories here but more than that, the university is dealing with all the legal aspects of our work and in this case, they are working with the company in Holland. At the same time the university helps protect our rights as inventors,” Cello said.

“[We don’t have] the ability to commercialize all these products and [Janssen] have a system where we can produce a huge amount of the vaccine,” he continued.

“While we are developing the seed strain, they are making it safer and cheaper,” Cello said.

The most worthwhile part of the process, Cello said, is the chance to help people avoid contracting the disease.

“I think it’s nice, I think everyone wants their research to be used in a way that will help,” he continued.

“In this case, eradicate a disease or treat a disease and you’re helping the society. To see our research is put in action in this way and see this result, it’s rewarding.”

This article was originally published in the Feb 18, 2013 issue of The Statesman.

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