In October 2023 the Human Immunome Project (HIP), a global nonprofit organisation dedicated to “decoding and modelling the immune system”, shared a 5-year “Scientific Plan”. The announcement states that from 2024 the HIP will “oversee the generation of the largest immunological dataset in history”. This will be used to create AI models of the immune system for the acceleration of research and discovery. Here we examine the ambitions that HIP is setting for the coming years, to understand what they mean for the vaccine community.
HIP describes the human immune system as a “dynamic, multi-scale network”, involving “uniquely complex interactions” between molecules, cells, and organs. Its role in human health “critical” as it monitors, reacts to, and defends the body against pathogens and stressors. Although we know how important it is to human health, and despite “tremendous advances” in technology, data are “limited in both size and scope”. Thus, “less than one percent of the immunological data necessary to understand immune diversity on a global scale” are “unavailable”.
Without these data, we are prevented from “harnessing the power of the immune system” in pursuit of better human health. To fill in the gaps, HIP will focus on the generation of multi-omic immunological baseline data to reflect the “diverse human population”. This will happen through a “phased approach”.
Phase I is divided into 3 main goals. The first is “collect data at pioneering sites”. 7 state-of-the-art collection sites, or Pioneering Sites, will be established to collect “extensive data” from 500 participants. After baseline collection, longitudinal data will be generated to assess “developmental and age-dependent changes” and to “computationally stitch together the temporal trajectory” of different age groups across males and females.
The second goal is to “establish HIP Site Plan for Scaling”. In collaboration with the Pioneering Sites, and reflecting on their experiences, the team will “refine the protocol and site structure”, establishing a replicable site model that can be scaled to up to 100 sites around the globe. The process involves “refining” and developing the required assays, ensuring standardised quality, and prioritising “the most important immune parameters to capture” as data collection is scaled.
“Crucially, HIP will support local capacity building, training personnel in sample collection, first in blood and skin, and then in other tissues.”
A “fleet” of human immunology study sites will be created, as will a “network of global partners”. This goal seeks to ensure that “every corner” of the world is equipped with the “necessary tools”.
The third goal is “engineer Immune monitoring Kit (IMK). HIP identifies a “trade-off between technology maturity and resolution”. In response to “replicability, financial, and universal deployment challenges” HIP is working on an Immune Monitoring Kit to capture standardised and multi-omic data from the population. The kit will “simplify data collection” and “limit cost”.
“Achievement of these three goals during Phase I will substantially increase the amount of immunological data available and will enable the Human Immunome Project to initiate Phase II of our scientific plan, drastically expanding and rapidly scaling data collection worldwide.”
Phase II comprises 2 goals. The first is the scaling of study sites: “establish 70-100 data collection sites globally”.
“Our global study protocol and scaled participant number is designed to capture diversity of individuals and thus immune functions and responses.”
Although collections sites will be “highly distributed”, HIP will be “mission control”. This means “overseeing the global network and managing the logistics and scientific strategy”. A Scientific Steering Committee, comprising experts in immunology, AI, and “beyond”, will be responsible for study design and direction.
The second goal is “deploy Immune Monitoring Kit”. This complements the scaling of sites and participants to ensure that data is standardised.
“The Immune Monitoring Kit is central to HIP’s scientific approach as it not only ensures consistent measurements, but also empowers local sites to develop data generation, processing, and storage capacities.”
This is intended to empower lower resource areas with the “same level” of tool as the most “advanced immunological institutes”. The result will be high quality standards and the encouragement of global buy-in and participation.
“Successful execution of Phase II will enable the development of AI models of the immune system that can predict the immune responses and health trajectories of individuals using baseline information.”
5 more years
After the first five years, which focus on data generation and understanding, the next five will be “dedicated to growing the quantitative and predictive models” as well as building the “first-ever, and publicly available, mechanistic, computable models of the immune system”. These will allow insight into response outcomes but also how the immune system operates.
“Such information will transform our ability to programme the immune system to optimise health outcomes, with applications in all areas of health including vaccine development, infectious diseases, autoimmunity, pandemic preparedness, cancer, and neurodegeneration.”
Two further pillars will be added to the plan at the stage.
How do you think this will influence future vaccine design? Will the pillars be a sustainable approach to this data generation? For more on understanding the immune system and tailoring vaccines to human needs, don’t forget to subscribe.