Dose immunogenicity study of a plant-produced influenza virus-like particle vaccine in layer hens

25 Jun 2022
Abolnik C, Smith T, Wandrag DBR, Murphy MA, Rautenbach M, Olibile O and O'Kennedy M

Avian influenza poses one of the largest known threats to global poultry production and human health, but effective poultry vaccines can reduce infections rates, production losses and prevent mortalities, and reduce viral shed to limit further disease spread. The antigenic match between a vaccine and the circulating field influenza A viruses (IAV) is a critical determinant of vaccine efficacy. Here, an Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transient tobacco plant (Nicotiana benthamiana) system was used to rapidly update an H6 influenza subtype virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine expressing the hemagglutininn (HA) protein of South African H6N2 IAVs circulating in 2020. Specific pathogen free White Leghorn layer hens vaccinated twice with ≥125 hemagglutinating unit (HAU) doses elicited protective antibody responses associated with prevention of viral shedding, i.e. hemaglutination inhibition (HI) mean geometric titres (GMTs) of ≥7 log2, for at least four months before dropping to approximately 5-6 log2 for at least another two months. A single vaccination with a 250 HAU dose induced significantly higher HI GMTs compared lower or higher doses, and was thus the optimal dose for chickens. Use of an adjuvant was essential, as the plant-produced H6 HA VLP alone did not induce protective antibody responses. Plant-produced IAV VLPs enable differentiation between vaccinated and infected animals (DIVA principle), and with sucrose density gradient-purified yields of 20,000 doses per kg of plant material, this highly efficacious, safe and economical technology holds enormous potential for improving poultry health in lower and middle-income countries.