Vaccine adjuvants: Current state and future trends

Authors: Nikolai Petrovsky1 and Julio César Aguilar2


The problem with pure recombinant or synthetic antigens used in modern day vaccines is that they are generally far less immunogenic than older style live or killed whole organism vaccines. This has created a major need for improved and more powerful adjuvants for use in these vaccines. With few exceptions, alum remains the sole adjuvant approved for human use in the majority of countries worldwide. Although alum is able to induce a good antibody (Th2) response, it has little capacity to stimulate cellular (Th1) immune responses which are so important for protection against many pathogens. In addition, alum has the potential to cause severe local and systemic side-effects including sterile abscesses, eosinophilia and myofascitis, although fortunately most of the more serious side-effects are relatively rare. There is also community concern regarding the possible role of aluminium in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Consequently, there is a major unmet need for safer and more effective adjuvants suitable for human use. In particular, there is demand for safe and non-toxic adjuvants able to stimulate cellular (Th1) immunity. Other needs in light of new vaccine technologies are adjuvants suitable for use with mucosally-delivered vaccines, DNA vaccines, cancer and autoimmunity vaccines. Each of these areas are highly specialized with their own unique needs in respect of suitable adjuvant technology. This paper reviews the state of the art in the adjuvant field, explores future directions of adjuvant development and finally examines some of the impediments and barriers to development and registration of new human adjuvants.