Our Vaccine Technology

Vaccine Technology

Novavax’ Recombinant Protein Nanoparticle Vaccine Technology

Novavax is a leading innovator of recombinant vaccines. Novavax’ proprietary vaccine technology combines the power and the speed of genetic engineering to efficiently produce a new class of highly immunogenic particles addressing urgent unmet medical needs.  

The power of this technology is highlighted by our program to address respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a leading cause of infant and older adult hospitalization. Attempts to develop an RSV vaccine have been stymied despite 60 years of research by vaccinologists. Our scientific breakthrough in the development of an RSV nanoparticle vaccine candidate and our rapid advances in clinical development are excellent examples of the power of our technology.

Genetic Engineering in Insect Cells

We produce our vaccine nanoparticles in cells originally isolated in the 1970s from the ovaries of the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). The Sf9 insect cell line can grow in apparent perpetuity when infected with a baculovirus (BV), a virus that infects only insects. Because a baculovirus can be engineered to carry one or more foreign genes of interest, it can be used to "program" (infect) the Sf9 cells to efficiently produce the desired protein or proteins that are correctly folded and biologically active. Novavax uses the Sf9 system to construct recombinant protein nanoparticles that have the potential to provide increase protection.

Recombinant Protein Nanoparticles
Our RSV vaccine candidate illustrates how Novavax scientists use our Sf9/baculovirus recombinant technology platform to create new product candidates.

We start by identifying a specific surface protein with favorable immunogenic properties. The RSV fusion protein (F-protein) is an important surface protein central to the disease process. We first identified the genetic sequence of the F-protein and then cloned the gene into the BV. The engineered BV is then used to infect the Sf9 cells, where it utilizes the Sf9 cell internal machinery to make the RSV F-protein. As the Sf9 cells produce recombinant RSV F-proteins, the proteins properly fold, undergo a series of programmed modifications, and are ultimately transported to the cell surface. Correctly folded and modified RSV F-proteins are then extracted from the cell surface and purified to maintain their three-dimensional structure and biological activity, ultimately serving as the immunogenic molecule in our vaccine.

In the native RSV virus, the F-protein is unstable and does not appear to induce fully protective immune responses. However, Novavax scientists introduced specific modifications to ensure the recombinant F-protein in the vaccine candidate is more stable. Our scientists have also designed the recombinant F-proteins to self-assemble into nanoparticle constructs that approximate the size of the RSV virus, a strategy that has been shown to enhance the immune response. We believe this recombinant vaccine engineering approach provides robust and functional immunity, and can be applied to a wide variety of viral, bacterial and parasitic diseases.

Advantages of Novavax’ Manufacturing Technology

Our manufacturing platform has a number of important advantages:

  • Our carefully designed genetic constructs allow us to tailor our vaccines to key components of pathogens, which we believe enhances functional immunity and leads to better protection against infection and disease.
  • Our Sf9/BV platform efficiently expresses large antigens and particles, which in turn promote superior immunogenicity and better functional immunity.
  • Our manufacturing platform can produce proteins that are properly folded and modified, which can be critical for functional, protective immunity.
  • Unlike traditional influenza vaccine manufacturing, we do not need to grow an actual influenza virus, obtain embryonated chicken eggs, adapt the virus or optimize new strains to grow in eggs. This 50-year old method requires four to six months lead time to produce a new strain of virus and significant investment in fixed production facilities.

Our Sf9/BV recombinant technology platform is the basis for a portfolio of novel vaccines that represent important advances and address current unmet medical needs. Our innovation introduces a significant immunologic advantage, embodied by the presentation of antigens as highly immunogenic particles in their native configuration, and sound principles of development, as a scalable, efficient recombinant vaccine production system.