Abigail Klein Leichman

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has received a $1.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop and validate a novel and safe approach for measuring immune responses to polioviruses.

This research is being led by Prof. Tomer Hertz of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Genetics and the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev.

Since 2018, Hertz has been developing antigen arrays capable of predicting immune responses of patients vaccinated against polioviruses, influenza viruses or viruses from the flavivirus family (including, among others, Zika and the viruses that cause dengue and yellow fever).

A vaccine preventing the paralysis that can result from poliovirus infection was developed in the 1950s. Thanks to the efforts of many organizations, two out of three types of the virus have already been globally eradicated.

These efforts are supported by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, a public-private partnership led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, UNICEF, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gavi, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The funding will help Hertz and his team apply and optimize PAM – a polio antigen microarray – that was originally developed using research grants from the WHO-coordinated Polio Research Committee.

PAM requires only minimal amounts of serum, or dried blood spots. Its validation will facilitate rapid analysis of blood samples in countries where polio has yet to be eradicated.

“This is a very exciting opportunity to test our PAM assay on a large set of samples from a serosurvey conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Hertz.

“We hope that this project will lead to the establishment of a novel and safe to use the assay for measuring protection from polio infection.”

Commercialization efforts are still underway for the platforms to detect immunity to the influenza virus and to detect antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) in vaccines against flaviviruses. These two patent families are owned by the university’s tech-transfer company, BGN Technologies.

“Prof. Hertz is an excellent example of an outstanding researcher who developed a groundbreaking platform technology which will have a global impact,” says BGN Technologies CEO Josh Peleg.

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