The generation of a simian adenoviral vectored HCV vaccine encoding genetically conserved gene segments to target multiple HCV genotypes
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BACKGROUND: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) genomic variability is a major challenge to the generation of a prophylactic vaccine. We have previously shown that HCV specific T-cell responses induced by a potent T-cell vaccine encoding a single strain subtype-1b immunogen target epitopes dominant in natural infection. However, corresponding viral regions are highly variable at a population level, with a reduction in T-cell reactivity to these variants. We therefore designed and manufactured second generation simian adenovirus vaccines encoding genomic segments, conserved between viral genotypes and assessed these for immunogenicity. METHODS: We developed a computer algorithm to identify HCV genomic regions that were conserved between viral subtypes. Conserved segments below a pre-defined diversity threshold spanning the entire HCV genome were combined to create novel immunogens (1000-1500 amino-acids), covering variation in HCV subtypes 1a and 1b, genotypes 1 and 3, and genotypes 1-6 inclusive. Simian adenoviral vaccine vectors (ChAdOx) encoding HCV conserved immunogens were constructed. Immunogenicity was evaluated in C57BL6 mice using panels of genotype-specific peptide pools in ex-vivo IFN-ϒ ELISpot and intracellular cytokine assays. RESULTS: ChAdOx1 conserved segment HCV vaccines primed high-magnitude, broad, cross-reactive T-cell responses; the mean magnitude of total HCV specific T-cell responses was 1174 SFU/106 splenocytes for ChAdOx1-GT1-6 in C57BL6 mice targeting multiple genomic regions, with mean responses of 935, 1474 and 1112 SFU/106 against genotype 1a, 1b and 3a peptide panels, respectively. Functional assays demonstrated IFNg and TNFa production by vaccine-induced CD4 and CD8 T-cells. In silico analysis shows that conserved immunogens contain multiple epitopes, with many described in natural HCV infection, predicting immunogenicity in humans. CONCLUSIONS: Simian adenoviral vectored vaccines encoding genetic segments that are conserved between all major HCV genotypes contain multiple T-cell epitopes and are highly immunogenic in pre-clinical models. These studies pave the way for the assessment of multi-genotypic HCV T-cell vaccines in humans.
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