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What's an adjuvant?

24 November 2014

An adjuvant is a substance that is administered with a vaccine to enhance its effect by causing a greater response from the immune system. Our cancer immunotherapy programme has been assessing an adjuvant called ?-galactosylceramide (?-GalCer for short). It is a natural chemical that was discovered in a marine sponge but is now made synthetically. This adjuvant is included in our melanoma vaccine that is currently being tested in a clinical trial. Novel adjuvants that differ slightly to ?-GalCer are also being investigated. These compounds have been developed by our chemistry collaborators at the Ferrier Research Institute (in a research programme led by Dr Gavin Painter) and are being incorporated into our new synthetic vaccines.

In our most promising synthetic vaccine (which also appears to work in an asthma model), Dr Painter’s team used ingenious chemistry to link the adjuvant and the antigen. Once inside the target cell, the linked vaccine breaks cleanly into two, releasing both components to initiate a powerful immune response.