Q&A: Rino Rappuoli

Today I had the chance to talk to Rino Rappuoli, one of the three scientific organizers of the Keystone Symposium on Immunological Mechanisms of Vaccination. Rappuoli, a vaccinologist, is the head of research at Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics in Siena, Italy. Here is some of what he said. 

What were your goals for this meeting? 

The main goal was to put together people who do very basic immunology and don’t know very much about real life in vaccines, and vaccinologists who just want to make vaccines. They don’t care about immunological mechanisms. So these two groups have been basically working in parallel, never talking to each other. And so far, that probably has been fine because they couldn’t help each other. But now knowledge has accumulated in immunology such that it can really make an impact on vaccine design. So we felt that this is the moment these groups need to talk. And the best way to make them talk is to put them in the same room. 

What’s an example of what they could learn from each other? 

A lot of immunologists need to start to know the complexity of making vaccines, and vaccinologists need to understand that they cannot use adjuvants without knowing how they would work. Those things could be licensed or put into people in the past without knowing the science. Today you cannot do that any longer. 

Why is that? 

First of all because the regulatory agencies will ask immunological questions, and second because the next-generation adjuvants, the ones that will make a difference, will only make a difference if you understand the mechanism. So far vaccinologists have made progress by trial and error, [but] in this field especially with the more difficult vaccines all the trials and errors have been done. If there is no solution so far, that means the only solution can come from basic science. That means you need to go to the immunological mechanism. 

Is there an example of how these two groups not talking much with each other has been a problem? 

I believe HIV is one example. People wanted to do pure T-cell vaccines, a pure immunological approach. I guess a vaccinologist would not do that because there are no examples of vaccines to work with pure T cells. I would never do a trial with a T-cell approach only. 

An example would be Merck’s STEP trial? 

Yes the STEP trial.