James Merson, chief scientific officer at the Vaccines Research Unit at Pfizer, talks about how the manipulation of genes is crucial in helping us design vaccines that are safe and cost effective.
Genetics is a broad descriptor, but specifically I think we can use the molecular biology revolution, that is the manipulation of genes. They have been crucial in helping us understand disease and design better vaccines. So by isolating genes that encode proteins from infectious organisms we can then take those genes and express them to make new proteins in various different organisms. That way we can generate very large amounts of protein with which to use as a vaccine. Genetics have also been used as a way of finding new proteins for infectious organisms. Recently meningococcal B vaccine has been developed where the whole gene known for that bacterium was deciphered and new proteins identified which could be associated or correlated with protective immune responses. From that identification, those proteins were cloned through molecular biology and used as the basis of a vaccine, which is proving very promising again, in clinical trials. So genetics have been really quite revolutionary with our ability to design vaccines in what I’d like to think both a safe and a very cost-effective manner.