According to experts, fungal infections cause over 1.5 million deaths worldwide each year and cost billions. They also double hospitalization costs, double the length of hospital stays and double the risk of death in hospitalized patients.
“There’s a significant unmet clinical need for this kind of prevention and also treatment, particularly among immunocompromised individuals,” said Karen Norris, lead investigator on the new study and professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“The patient population at risk for invasive fungal infections has increased significantly over the last several years.”
The experimental vaccine is designed to protect against the three most common fungal pathogens that are responsible for more than 80% of fatal fungal infections. The study tested the vaccine’s efficacy in four preclinical animal models, including nonhuman primates.
“Because it targets three different pathogens, the vaccine has the potential to be groundbreaking regarding invasive fungal infections,” said Norris, who is also faculty in the university’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology. “Plans are underway to develop the vaccine for a Phase I (human) safety trial.”
Fungal infections are most commonly seen in people with immune disorders, including those with uncontrolled HIV or impaired immunity from therapies like chemotherapy or anti-inflammatories.
But previous research from Norris, postdoctoral fellow Emily Rayens and the College of Public Health’s José Cordero in 2022 showed that at-risk population has expanded in recent years.
That study showed people with diabetes; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD); or co-infections such as Covid-19, tuberculosis or flu are likewise at higher risk of developing fungal infections.
The new vaccine targets the three most common causes of fungal infections: Aspergillus, Candida and Pneumocystis. Candida, in particular, is a growing concern in health care circles as different strains of the fungus become multidrug resistant.
The vaccine showed broad, cross-protective antifungal immunity in the animal models, which bodes well for future clinical trials.