Ginkgo Bioworks to discover and develop novel vaccine adjuvants 


A five-year contract totalling up to $31 million including programme options has been awarded to Ginkgo Bioworks to discover and develop next-generation vaccine adjuvants.

The contract was awarded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s (DTRA) Joint Science and Technology Office (JSTO) for the Chemical and Biological Defense (CBD) Program, through the Medical Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Consortium (MCDC) requirement 22-05, ‘Adjuvant Activity to Vaccines Prototype’. 

Partners in adjuvant discovery and development since 2021, Ginkgo, which is building a platform for cell programming and biosecurity, and SaponiQx, developing an adjuvant development platform, will use a combination of high-throughput empirical and artificial intelligence/machine learning approaches, including Generative Molecular Design (GMD), to develop superior novel saponin-based adjuvants. 

Licensing for human use

Adjuvants are components of vaccines that help to enhance the magnitude, breadth, and duration of the immune response to vaccination. Currently, only a handful of adjuvants are available for human use in licensed vaccines.  

SaponiQx’s STIMULON QS-21is an adjuvant component in vaccines for shingles, malaria, and respiratory syncytial virus. Novel adjuvants with enhanced properties, including tailored humoral and cellular immune responses, could pave the way for a new wave of innovative vaccines against existing and emerging pathogens. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the critical need for safe, effective, and accessible vaccines against emerging biothreat agents,” said Jennifer Wipf, SVP, Head of Commercial Cell Engineering at Ginkgo Bioworks. “Imagine a future where vaccines are not only more affordable but also provide consistent protection in fewer doses, without causing discomfort or requiring refrigeration.” 

Protecting against biothreat agents

The partners aim to demonstrate in the laboratory and in animal studies the ability of these novel adjuvants to protect against challenges from biothreat agents, such as the plague, and to provide lower cost, sustainable and scalable manufacturing processes by leveraging Ginkgo’s platform for cell programming.  

The partners intend to design candidate adjuvants using SaponiQx’s platform for adjuvant generation, and to identify additional candidates by screening natural extracts for previously uncharacterised saponins and creating non-natural saponins with enzyme-based techniques. Harnessing a “data lake” for adjuvants, they plan to use iterative GMD to propose and optimise adjuvant structures against eight functional parameters. Adjuvant candidates will be put through in-depth testing, first in the laboratory for immune and toxicity responses, and then in studies of their effectiveness in protecting vaccinated animals from pathogens; QS-21 and the related QS-7 will serve as benchmarks. 

The partners also intend to develop more affordable, sustainable, and scalable adjuvant manufacturing processes. Ginkgo will develop a first-generation Adjuvant Development Candidate (ADC) production method, using a heterologous production strain such as brewers’ yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

By MEGAN THOMAS, Multimedia Editor, DDW

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