Efficacy of recombinant Marek's disease virus vectored vaccines with computationally optimized broadly reactive antigen (COBRA) hemagglutinin insert against genetically diverse H5 high pathogenicity avian influenza viruses
The genetic and antigenic drift associated with the high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) viruses of Goose/Guangdong (Gs/GD) lineage and the emergence of vaccine-resistant field viruses underscores the need for a broadly protective H5 influenza A vaccine. Here, we tested experimental vector herpesvirus of turkey (vHVT)-H5 vaccines containing either wild-type clade 220.127.116.11A-derived H5 inserts or computationally optimized broadly reactive antigen (COBRA) inserts with challenge by homologous and genetically divergent H5 HPAI Gs/GD lineage viruses in chickens. Direct assessment of protection was confirmed for all the tested constructs, which provided clinical protection against the homologous and heterologous H5 HPAI Gs/GD challenge viruses and significantly decreased oropharyngeal shedding titers compared to the sham vaccine. The cross reactivity was assessed by hemagglutinin inhibition (HI) and focus reduction assay against a panel of phylogenetically and antigenically diverse H5 strains. The COBRA-derived H5 inserts elicited antibody responses against antigenically diverse strains, while the wild-type-derived H5 vaccines elicited protection mostly against close antigenically related clades 18.104.22.168A and 22.214.171.124D viruses. In conclusion, the HVT vector, a widely used replicating vaccine platform in poultry, with H5 insert provides clinical protection and significant reduction of viral shedding against homologous and heterologous challenge. In addition, the COBRA-derived inserts have the potential to be used against antigenically distinct co-circulating viruses and future drift variants.