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  1. PEGylation is the gold standard in protein‐polymer conjugation, improving circulation half‐life of biologics while mitigating the immune response to a foreign substance. However, preexisting anti‐PEG antibodies in healthy humans are becoming increasingly prevalent and elicitation of anti‐PEG antibodies when patients are administered with PEGylated therapeutics challenges their safety profile. In the current study, two distinct amine‐reactive poly(oxanorbornene) (PONB) imide‐based water‐soluble block co‐polymers are synthesized using ring‐opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP). The synthesized block‐copolymers include PEG‐based PONB‐PEG and sulfobetaine‐based PONB‐Zwit. The polymers are then covalently conjugated to amine residues of lysozyme (Lyz) and urate oxidase (UO) using a grafting‐to bioconjugation technique. Both Lyz‐PONB and UO‐PONB conjugates retained significant bioactivities after bioconjugation. Immune recognition studies of UO‐PONB conjugates indicated a comparable lowering of protein immunogenicity when compared to PEGylated UO. PEG‐specific immune recognition is negligible for UO‐PONB‐Zwit conjugates, as expected. These polymers provide a new alternative for PEG‐based systems that retain high levels of activity for the biologic while showing improved immune recognition profiles.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 26, 2024
  2. Plant virus-based nanoparticles (VNPs) offer a bioinspired approach to the delivery of drugs and imaging agents. The chemical addressability, biocompatibility, and scalable manufacturability of VNPs make them a promising alternative to synthetic delivery platforms. However, VNPs, just like other proteinaceous or synthetic nanoparticles (NPs), are readily recognized and cleared by the immune system and mechanisms such as opsonization and phagocytosis. Shielding strategies, such as PEGylation, are commonly used to mitigate premature NP clearance. Here, we investigated polyethylene glycol (PEG) coatings on the tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), which was used as a model nanocarrier system. Specifically, we evaluated the effects of linear and multivalent PEG coatings at varying chain lengths on serum protein adsorption, antibody recognition, and macrophage uptake. Linear and multivalent PEGs of molecular weights 2,000 and 5,000 Da were successfully grafted onto the TMV at ≈ 20%–60% conjugation efficiencies, and the degree of cross-linking as a function of PEG valency and length was determined. PEGylation resulted in the modulation of TMV–macrophage interactions and reduced corona formation as well as antibody recognition. Linear and multivalent PEG 5,000 formulations (but not PEG 2,000 formulations) reduced α-TMV antibody recognition, whereas shorter, multivalent PEG coatings significantly reduced α-PEG recognition—this highlights an interesting interplay between the NP and the PEG itself in potential antigenicity and should be an important consideration in PEGylation strategies. This work provides insight into the PEGylation of VNPs, which may improve the possibility of their implementation in clinical applications. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 8, 2024
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 28, 2024
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  5. The COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 sparked intensive research into the development of effective vaccines, 50 of which have been approved thus far, including the novel mRNA-based vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. Although limiting the severity of the disease, the mRNA-based vaccines presented drawbacks, such as the cold chain requirement. Moreover, antibody levels generated by these vaccines decline significantly after 6 months. These vaccines deliver mRNA encoding the full-length spike (S) glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2, but must be updated as new strains and variants of concern emerge, creating a demand for adjusted formulations and booster campaigns. To overcome these challenges, we have developed COVID-19 vaccine candidates based on the highly conserved SARS CoV-2, 809-826 B-cell peptide epitope (denoted 826) conjugated to cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) nanoparticles and bacteriophage Qβ virus-like particles, both platforms have exceptional thermal stability and facilitate epitope delivery with inbuilt adjuvant activity. We evaluated two administration methods: subcutaneous injection and an implantable polymeric scaffold. Mice received a prime–boost regimen of 100 μg per dose (2 weeks apart) or a single dose of 200 μg administered as a liquid formulation, or a polymer implant. Antibody titers were evaluated longitudinally over 50 weeks. The vaccine candidates generally elicited an early Th2-biased immune response, which stimulates the production of SARS-CoV-2 neutralizing antibodies, followed by a switch to a Th1-biased response for most formulations. Exceptionally, vaccine candidate 826-CPMV (administered as prime-boost, soluble injection) elicited a balanced Th1/Th2 immune response, which is necessary to prevent pulmonary immunopathology associated with Th2 bias extremes. While the Qβ-based vaccine elicited overall higher antibody titers, the CPMV-induced antibodies had higher avidity. Regardless of the administration route and formulation, our vaccine candidates maintained high antibody titers for more than 50 weeks, confirming a potent and durable immune response against SARS-CoV-2 even after a single dose. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 20, 2024
  6. Agriculture is facing new challenges, with global warming modifying the survival chances for crops, and new pests on the horizon. To keep up with these challenges, gene delivery provides tools to increase crop yields. On the other hand, gene delivery also opens the door for molecular farming of pharmaceuticals in plants. However, towards increased food production and scalable molecular farming, there remain technical difficulties and regulatory hurdles to overcome. The industry-standard is transformation of plants via Agrobacterium tumefaciens , but this method is limited to certain plants, requires set up of plant growth facilities and fermentation of bacteria, and introduces lipopolysaccharides contaminants into the system. Therefore, alternate methods are needed. Mechanical inoculation and spray methods have already been discussed in the literature – and here, we compare these methods with a newly introduced petiole injection technique. Because our interest lies in the development of plant viruses as immunotherapies targeting human health as well as gene delivery vectors for agriculture applications, we turned toward tobacco mosaic virus as a model system. We studied the effectiveness of three inoculation techniques: mechanical inoculation, Silwet-77 foliar spray and petiole injections. The foliar spray method was optimized, and we used 0.03% Silwet L-77 to induce infection using either TMV or a lysine-added mutant TMV-Lys. We developed a method using a needle-laden syringe to target and inject the plant virus directly into the vasculature of the plant – we tested injection into the stem and petiole. Stem inoculation resulted in toxicity, but the petiole injection technique was established as a viable strategy. TMV and TMV-Lys were purified from single plants and pooled leaf samples – overall there was little variation between the techniques, as measured by TMV or TMV-Lys yields, highlighting the feasibility of the syringe injection technique to produce virus nanoparticles. There was variation between yields from preparation to preparation with mechanical, spray and syringe inoculation yielding 40–141 mg, 36–56 mg, 18–56 mg TMV per 100 grams of leaves. Similar yields were obtained using TMV-Lys, with 24–38 mg, 17–28, 7–36 mg TMV-Lys per 100 grams of leaves for mechanical, spray and syringe inoculation, respectively. Each method has its advantages: spray inoculation is highly scalable and therefore may find application for farming, the syringe inoculation could provide a clean, aseptic, and controlled approach for molecular farming of pharmaceuticals under good manufacturing protocols (GMP) and would even be applicable for gene delivery to plants in space. 
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