As the countdown to the World Vaccine Congress in Washington continues with only days to go, we are excited to share another pre-event interview. This conversation with Dr Fadil Bidmos was conducted over email and gives us an insight into what he will be exploring during his session in the AMR workshop on the 3rd of April. We are so grateful to Dr Bidmos for his time and the detail he offered in his answers. We hope you enjoy the interview!
Introducing Dr Bidmos
Dr Bidmos is an Advanced Research Fellow at Imperial College London, directing “innovative research” that is focused on the development of a vaccine that targets “both main causes of bacterial meningitis”: Neisseria meningitidis and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Dr Bidmos explained that bacterial meningitis “mostly affects children under the age of 5 and the immunocompromised”.
The “rapid pace of progression of disease” and “non-specificity of early symptoms” ultimately leads to death, which is why there is a significant need for preventative measures as an alternative to post-infection therapy. This research is funded by Dr Bidmos’ MRC Career Development Award and uses “advanced pre-clinical strategies” with the goal of designing “cost-effective” vaccine candidate antigens. The intention is then to extend these strategies to other bacterial diseases.
Alongside his research responsibilities, Dr Bidmos teaches and supervises the laboratory projects of university students, as well as executing administrative tasks within the College.
“I contribute to the wider community by reviewing and editing journal manuscripts in the area of bacterial infectious diseases, and review of grant applications for both national and international agencies.”
Reverse Vaccinology 2.0
Dr Bidmos will present a session on “Reverse Vaccinology 2.0” at the Congress next week. We asked about a general perspective but also how this can be considered in the context of AMR prevention. He suggests that it is an “update on the previous Reverse Vaccinology strategy”.
“One can see it in the same light as the software updates required for computerised devices.”
A key difference is that “candidates recommended by RV studies are not necessarily known to be immunogenic in humans”. However, “because of the nature of RV2.0”, we can make a “solid assumption” about the immunogenicity status of RV2.0 antigens.
“In the context of AMR, RV2.0 is a powerful tool that can unravel vaccine antigens at a rapid pace, but more importantly, the RV2.0 strategy can also yield an alternative agent – therapeutic antibodies – which can be used for treatment of cases of significant multidrug resistance.”
Why is RV so useful for public health threats?
A quick google search reveals that many consider RV to be an improvement or advancement on ‘traditional’ vaccinology. We therefore asked Dr Bidmos about the advantages it brings to the public health sphere.
“One of its main advantages is pace of antigen discovery. Given the appropriate facilities and robust study design, candidate vaccine antigens for a pathogen can be discovered in about 2 months.”
Another advantage is the “quality of antigens”. In Dr Bidmos’ experience, it reveals “rare but highly immunogenic antigens which would be missed by traditional approaches because of our limited knowledge and adherence to paradigms that correspond to theoretical assumptions”
“Here lies another strength of RV2.0 – its non-bias for ‘antigens’ as defined by our limited understanding.”
At the cloning stage, the maximum number of antibody-producing cells will be sorted. As Dr Bidmos suggests, “the bigger the lab/human resources, the better”, for this stage.
“Because the cognate antigen antigens of antibodies produced by each cell is unknown, there is a much greater likelihood that novel antigens, including those that would have never been considered by traditional hypothesis-based/RV approaches, will be discovered.”
On that note, Dr Bidmos acknowledges that “even classical RV” is “susceptible to missing rare antigens” because it relies on “our assumptions of an antigen’s characteristics”.
Technological advances and areas for improvement
Over the past few years, the speed of technological change has been noticeable even to the untrained observer, so we asked Dr Bidmos about areas that have been important for RV and areas for more attention. Although not so recent, he recalls “advancements in fluorescence-activated cell sorting equipment” and “the availability of whole genome sequence data” as “critical” to “high-throughput strategies” like RV2.0.
“Further advancements in automated solutions will greatly enhance its capacity – while powerful, RV2.0 can be labour-intensive, especially when its full benefits are desired.”
These solutions will be particularly important for “basic lab tasks”. Dr Bidmos considers things like “agarose gel electrophoresis of 1000s of samples and cloning”. On a “less technical but more crucial level”, Dr Bidmos states that identifying correlates of protection for individual pathogens requires “significant effort”. Without these correlates, the “determination of what constitutes functional immunogenicity will remain unknown”.
“If we can’t delineate cloned antibodies based on functional ability, how will we select which cognate antigens to take forward?”
AMR and access
Access should always be central to vaccine development, but for AMR it is particularly relevant. Thus, we should be ensuring that vaccines used in AMR prevention efforts should be accessible to all. We asked Dr Bidmos about challenges that are associated with establishing cost-effective processes to produce accessible products.
Dr Bidmos began by suggesting that some aspects of this herculean task “go beyond science”. However, he tactfully opted to “stick with science-y bit”. Perhaps if you meet him at the Congress, you can dig deeper into these other factors with him!
The cost of vaccine research and development, especially with “advanced technologies”, is “not cheap”. Referring to a study from 2018, Dr Bidmos tells us that the cost of progressing just one vaccine from “pre-clinical through to Phase IIa trial completion” was between $319 and $469 million, accounting for “risk of failure”.
“Perhaps, further funding support, if available, from intergovernmental networks could help support industry in offsetting some costs in the vaccine development process, thus limiting the burden on industry and their need to recoup expenses by setting high prices for vaccines that make it to market.”
“Cross-talk between regulatory bodies for knowledge sharing may help eliminate bottlenecks in licensure (following due processes, of course) for diseases with little to no vaccine licensure track record.”
For example, Dr Bidmos identifies a “wealth of experience” in the meningococcal vaccine regulatory field that could be “somewhat useful to other disease regulatory bodies”.
“Finally, scientists like myself who are at the heart of the development process can continue to apply new knowledge (some of which is obtained from ‘blue skies’ research, an area suffering from limited funding) to the development of processes that can help industry overcome manufacturing bottlenecks.”
Looking forward to next week!
With the Congress just days away we were eager to hear what Dr Bidmos is excited about. For him, the call of “new technologies” is strong; he’s looking forward to meeting them and exploring how their products and services can take his research to the “next level”.
“I am also excitedly looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of what goes on at the other side of the lab door, i.e., when we finish our bit, and the product goes to industry, what processes are involved in transforming our research into the final product.”
We hope that you found Dr Bidmos’ insights useful and are encouraged to attend his workshop for more information. Thank you to Dr Bidmos for his time and participation in our exclusive interview series! For more like this, keep an eye on your inbox over the next few weeks!