Wynnewood, PA — Human antibodies cloned by scientists at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR), part of Main Line Health, have been adopted by the World Health Organization as a crucial part of its plan to permanently eradicate polio, a disease believed to be quietly spreading throughout the world, including New York and possibly Philadelphia.
The WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardization approved the antibodies—created in the lab of LIMR faculty member Scott Dessain, MD, PhD—as the standard for quality-control testing of all inactivated polio vaccines (IPVs) worldwide in late October at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The new test will increase assurance of the vaccines working properly when administered. The committee first advanced guidelines incorporating the LIMR antibodies to test IPV potency two years ago.
Worldwide vaccination efforts have reduced the annual number of polio cases from about 350,000 in 1988 to only 6 in 2021, according to WHO, due to widespread administration of oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV). OPV was developed by Albert Sabin and first made available in 1961. It is the predominant type used globally. IPVs, invented by Jonas Salk in 1953, are injected in the arm or leg. They have been the only kind given in the United States since 2000.
One critical difference between the two vaccine types is that, unlike IPV, OPV uses weakened, live virus that can mutate and regain the ability to cause paralytic polio. Such mutated vaccine virus strains are causing the recent global resurgence of polio cases. In the United States, New York state officials alerted the public in July to a polio case in Rockland County apparently linked to OPV mutation. The case has raised concerns that poliovirus infections may be silently spreading in the United States and could cause disease in unvaccinated individuals.
Recently, health officials in Philadelphia and other large metropolitan areas have announced they will test sewage for poliovirus because of the New York case and the subsequent detection of poliovirus in the New York region’s sewage.
“News of the New York case is a reminder of the need to continue to commit to polio vaccination efforts worldwide,” said George Prendergast, PhD, president and CEO of LIMR. “The efforts of Dr. Dessain and his colleagues provide a key tool in quality control for the manufacture of high-potency IPV vaccines that can prevent polio outbreaks caused by mutated OPV across the world. We are proud of our achievement in this field of public health, which is among our finest in recent years.”
“The world is beginning to transition away from the oral vaccine because it is the only path to ultimately eradicating polio,” said Dessain, who is director of the Center for Human Antibody Technology at LIMR and holds the Joseph and Ray Gordon Chair in Clinical Oncology and Research. “Making that transition meant developing a next-generation IPV and expanding production. But the vaccine manufacturers weren’t using the same standards as one another. That made it necessary to find a way to not only determine the potency of the new vaccines from different manufacturers but also address the problem of quality control labs not all using the same potency test.”
Dessain and his team tackled the issue by identifying a set of human antibodies that can ensure that an IPV vaccine has been made correctly.
The antibodies were created by Ramdev Puligedda, PhD, formerly of LIMR, and Dessain in collaboration with Konstantin Chumakov, PhD, at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. The work was supported by the PATH Foundation.
The WHO committee’s adoption was based on a July report.
Dr. Scott Dessain is available for interviews on this press release and related stories about polio vaccines.