Engineering Biology Brings Hope for Chlamydia Vaccine

The cross-disciplinary field of engineering biology allows scientists to design and engineer organisms to carry out new roles, has been put to solving another challenge – that of creating a vaccine against the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia.

Caused by an infection with the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis,chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world, with 106 million new cases every year worldwide, according to the WHO. Often asymptomatic, chlamydia can cause infertility in women, and eye infections leading to blindness in children when passed on during childbirth.

Researchers have historically struggled to create a vaccine against Chlamydia trachomatis, since a vaccine developed in the 1960s actually appeared to make people more susceptible to the infection. The team at the engineering biology start up Prokarium has come a step closer, using its Vaxonella platform to create an oral vaccine based on a re-engineered and attenuated strain of Salmonella enterica. The bacteria are dosed orally, and are taken up into the lymphatic system. They then express the vaccine antigens, and also act as immunostimulants.

SynbiCITE, an Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) dedicated to promoting the adoption and use of engineering biology by industry, has provided £377,000 to help Prokarium to take the vaccine forward into clinical trials in 2017.

According to Steve Chatfield, chair of Prokarium and former executive director of the UK Health Protection Agency in a statement: “This SynbiCITE funding allows us to test a vaccine against one of the world’s most serious sexually transmitted infections. Prokarium is now well set up to work with the best of the best in the vaccine arena.”

The decision to fund the Prokarium vaccine was made because it has the possibility of meeting a significant need, Steve Chambers, the CEO of SynbiCITE, said in a statement. The funding also recognised the potential of the platform as a model for approaching treating other infections.

“The UK Innovation & Science Seed Fund is investing in healthcare based on engineering biology. Prokarium’s work with Synbicite helps accelerate development of engineering biology derived therapies and demonstrates the potential for the technology to open up new treatment options,” says UKI2S’ Engineering Biology Investment Director, Oliver Sexton.