The clinical success of anticancer and antiviral vaccines often requires co-administration of an adjuvant, a substance that enhances the immunogenicity of the antigen and potentiates the immune response. However, few adjuvants exhibit sufficient potency and negligible toxicity to be suitable for clinical use; moreover, their mechanisms of action are generally not fully understood. Current subunit vaccines based on weakly immunogenic carbohydrate and glycopeptide antigens are not being very successful in eliciting a strong immune response against cancer, and no such carbohydrate-based anticancer vaccine has yet been approved for humans despite extensive research efforts and several clinical trials. In this context, building upon the PI's previous background and expertise in the area, the research program in the Fernández-Tejada Group has a double, ultimate goal based on applying chemistry to address the above clear gaps in the adjuvant/vaccine field. With this idea in mind, the Chemical Immunology Lab established by Dr. Fernández-Tejada at CIC bioGUNE will develop new improved adjuvants and novel chemical strategies towards more effective, self-adjuvanting synthetic vaccines. Moreover, leveraging the extraordinary facilities and scientific expertise available at CIC bioGUNE, we will also focus on investigating the molecular mechanisms of the synthetic constructs by combining extensive immunological evaluations with molecular target identification studies and detailed conformational analysis. Thus, the Fernández-Tejada Group builds upon a highly multidisciplinary program integrating ambitious objectives and complementary approaches at the chemistry-biology frontier. Research in the Chemical Immunology Lab connects chemical synthesis and chemical/structural biology with cellular and molecular immunology to explore key unresolved mechanistic questions in the adjuvant/vaccine arena with extraordinary chemical precision.
The Fernández-Tejada Lab is funded primarily by the European Research Council through an ERC Starting Grant, which provides €1.5 million funding for a transformative and timely research program aimed at developing novel synthetic self-adjuvanting vaccines with improved properties and efficacy, as well as unraveling the molecular basis and three-dimensional structure underlying the biological activity of these constructs.