Harnessing a temperature-responsive polymer as vaccine adjuvant

Vaccines are a promising tool to prevent and treat cancer and infectious diseases, by exploiting the body’s own immune system. Among various immunotherapy modalities, protein-based vaccines represent a safe and scalable one, however, they depend on adjuvants to achieve a sufficiently strong immune response.
Oxford researchers have developed a novel temperature-responsive toll-like receptor (TLR) ligand-based polymer which transitions from a soluble to a nanoparticulate state upon in vivo administration. This nanoparticulate promotes strong activation of antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and local immunogenic properties.

Adjuvants in protein-based vaccines

Vaccines that elicit a potent and durable cellular immunity are an increasingly appealing strategy to prevent and treat cancer and infectious diseases. Among them, protein-based vaccines represent a safe, scalable and repeatably-injectable class of immune-boosting platforms. However, proteins are inherently weak immunogens and require the support of adjuvants, which stimulate and refine the immune response. Adjuvants require appropriate delivery in order to exhibit optimal in vivo activity.

A polymeric temperature-responsive adjuvant

Researchers from Oxford and the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases have engineered a polymeric toll-like receptor (TLR) ligand-based adjuvant able to undergo a phase change from soluble to nanoparticulate upon a shift from room to body temperature. This adjuvant promotes strong activation of antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and local retention in lymph nodes. Moreover, its polymeric nature provides a multivalent stimulus for TLRs which should give a very strong and potent binding interaction.
The TLR polymer has the following advantages:

  • It is a versatile and stable adjuvant when in the soluble form
  • It self-assembles to a potent nanoparticle at body temperature
  • It remains local following local delivery, reducing side effects from adjuvant spread
  • It is ideal for cGMP bulk synthesis


The invention is subject to a PCT patent application with the scope for international coverage. Oxford University Innovation would like to speak with companies interested in polymer-based cancer vaccine adjuvants or in immunotherapy solutions to combat infectious diseases.

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