As we continue our countdown to the World Vaccine Congress in Washington this April we are delighted to share more conversations with some of our fascinating speakers across a range of subjects. In this interview we were pleased to speak to Dr Yongjun Sui of NIH. She will be featured in the Vaccine Technology workshop, on Monday 3rd April, in which breakthrough vaccine technologies will be explored.   

This was a written interview, conducted over email, in which she shares some insight into her work and what she will discuss at the Congress. We hope you enjoy it! 

Can you tell us a bit about your current role? 

Dr Sui is currently an associate scientist at Vaccine Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health.  

“I have been working on the development of mucosal HIV and SARS-CoV-2 vaccines using non-human primate and rodent models.” 

With interests in “identifying innate and adaptive immune correlates of protection against HIV and SARS-CoV-2 infections”, as well as “exploring trained innate immunity mediated by myeloid cells”, Dr Sui is fully immersed in the world of immunity!  

What will your session at the Congress explore? 

We know from the agenda that Dr Sui will be discussing “repurposing mucosal combination adjuvant technology from HIV to SARS-CoV-2 vaccines”, so we asked for a bit of an insight into what this will involve. Dr Sui states that “adjuvant combinations” have been used in “mucosal HIV vaccine development” for “more than ten years”.  

“When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, we repurposed the adjuvant combination for the development of a SARS-CoV-2 mucosal vaccine”. 

Dr Sui suggests that she will be sharing data generated in “non-human primate and rodent” at the Congress, as well as exploring “the induction of mucosal immunity, and their contribution in controlling viral replication and COVID-19 diseases”.  

What do adjuvants mean to you? 

We hear a lot about how important adjuvants are in vaccine development, including recent research into reducing dependency on natural resources. We asked Dr Sui how she views adjuvants and how important they are for her work. She states that they provide “two types of help for the vaccine”.  

“1) Enhance the immune response to a given vaccine.

 2) Modulate the types of immune responses to mediate different levels of protection.”  

For mucosal vaccines in particular, adjuvants have “additional roles to facilitate the delivery of antigens through mucosal layers”. Furthermore, they protect the antigen from “degradation at the harsh mucosal microenvironments”.  

What technological developments has COVID-19 brought? 

Although the pandemic has put pressure on several different research areas, there have also been some technological developments that might be useful when applied to these areas. So, we asked Dr Sui how she views the state of play, and what she hopes to see in the future.  

As she has been working on HIV vaccine development, she has witnessed “tremendous efforts invested”. Unfortunately, these efforts yield “only limited success”.  

“I think new technology is the key for breakthrough.” 

Dr Sui hopes that the technologies that “advanced during the COVID-19 pandemic” will apply to the “problems” or “bottlenecks” that we encounter in other diseases, including HIV vaccine development.  

Although we have taken huge steps forward, we also encountered a lot of scepticism and mistrust of these new technologies. Dr Sui hopes that “we have more experience” dealing with both emerging diseases and the growing threat of anti-science information or confusion.  

“I think we should be prepared for both.” 

What brings you to the Congress? 

As always, we love to hear about the attraction of our event when we chat to our amazing speakers. Dr Sui is “excited to have the experience of in-person interaction and discussion with [her] peers”.  

“I would like to share and to know the academic achievements, challenges, and future directions on vaccine development.” 

We hope that Dr Sui can experience this at the Congress in a few weeks, and we hope that those of you who will join us are able to attend her session. Thank you to Dr Sui for her time and insight in answering our questions; we look forward to learning more soon!