Our recombinant, protein-based nanoparticle vaccine technology

scientist in lab

Vaccines can take years or even decades to develop. Our proprietary vaccine technology platform builds on a well understood, protein-based approach used for more than 40 years to efficiently produce protein-based nanoparticles.

These protein-based nanoparticles work with our proprietary Matrix-M™ adjuvant, which helps enhance the immune response in the body.

Our nanoparticle vaccine and adjuvant platform can be used to rapidly create investigational vaccines for existing and emerging pathogens, helping the world address important global health threats.

A brief history of vaccines: building on historical successes

Vaccination has been used to control certain diseases since the late 18th century, when Edward Jenner used matter from cowpox lesions to inoculate people against smallpox.1 Since then, as understanding and technology have progressed, vaccination has become a key method to help prevent the transmission of some infectious diseases. In fact, only access to clean water has a greater positive impact on global health than vaccinations.2

Attenuated vaccines 

Older vaccines, such as those used successfully against measles and polio, use a dead or weakened pathogen to activate the body’s immune system and stimulate antibody production. However, in someone with a compromised immune system, an attenuated pathogen may still cause sickness, and a dead pathogen may not result in a strong enough or long-lasting immune response.3 While these types of vaccines are still in use for helping to prevent many diseases, additional vaccine technologies have been developed.

Protein Vaccines 

Over recent decades, protein-based vaccines have been developed and successfully used to help combat infectious diseases such as diphtheria and tetanus. Instead of using the whole pathogen, these vaccines use a specific protein from the pathogen (known as an antigen), which has no function on its own but can be recognized by the body’s immune system.4 When isolated, purified, and injected into the body, this protein-based vaccine can provoke an immune response to help protect the body from infection without causing the disease.3

Recombinant Technology  

New  scientific techniques have further improved the processes used to develop these protein-based vaccines, making it quicker and easier to identify the best antigen for use in the vaccine and to produce this material in the quantities required.

One process that is crucial to the production of many vaccines, including ours, is genetic engineering. This technique enables Novavax scientists to use the genetic material from target pathogens to create highly purified, specific recombinant proteins.5,6

Novavax's vaccine development: from established genetic engineering to unique nanoparticle

Creating a recombinant protein is only the first step in producing a Novavax vaccine. In our vaccines, we organize recombinant proteins in a nanoparticle. This arrangement helps the immune system recognize that target protein from different angles7—the same way that it would see the details of a real pathogen. In our vaccines, there’s no actual virus, just the protein. The vaccines can’t cause the disease.

Learning to recognize vaccine proteins in this way helps train the immune system to develop protective antibodies that can help prevent illness.9,10

tech protein image

Novavax vaccine technology in action: fighting COVID-19

COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The virus uses a protein on its surface, known as the spike protein, to attach itself to human cells and cause infection.11 Novavax makes a protein that mimics the virus’ version of the spike protein. In our vaccine, we organize spike proteins into a nanoparticle to help the immune system recognize the target spike. Learning to recognize the spike proteins in this way helps the immune system protect you from getting sick from COVID-19.

Nanoparticles with spike proteins are just 1 of 2 important parts of the Novavax vaccine. The spike protein is the “signal,” but to generate immunity that may help protect against COVID-19, the immune system needs to hear that signal loud and clear.

That signal boost comes from Novavax's Matrix-M adjuvant. These tiny adjuvant particles increase the activity of the immune system.8,12 Together, the vaccine’s spike protein and Matrix-M adjuvant help stimulate a protective immune response.

Three regions of the earth with hotspots indicating amount of infected areas. Pandemic. Epidemic. Endemic.

On their own, the vaccine’s spike protein nanoparticles are not enough to trigger a full immune response, so we mix them with our proprietary Matrix-M adjuvant to help produce a stronger immune signal with the aim of creating immunity.13

For full information on the efficacy of our vaccine, please visit https://novavaxcovidvaccine.com.

  1. Riedel S. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2005;18(1):21–25.
  2. Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide. Bull World Health Organ. 2008;86:140–146.
  3. How Vaccines Work. Public Health. Available at https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/prenatal-care/vaccines-work/ [Accessed 3 Sept 2021].
  4. Vaccine Types. NIH 2019. Available at https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/vaccine-types [Accessed 3 Sept 2021].
  5. McCullers JA, Dun JD. PT. 2008;33:35–41.
  6. Nascimiento IP, Leite LCC. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2012;45:1102–1111.
  7. Science. 2020 Nov 27;370(6520):1089-1094. doi: 10.1126/science.abe1502. Epub 2020 Oct 20.
  8. Krueger S, et al. Mol Pharm. 2021;18(1):359–376.
  9. Gorman M, et al. August 2021. Available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xcrm.2021.100405 [Accessed 2 Feb 2022].
  10. Tian J-H, et al. Nat Commun. 2021;12:372.
  11. Bangaru S, et al. Science. 2020;370:1089–1094.
  12. Keech C, et al. N Engl J Med. 2020;383(24):2320–2332.
  13. How to produce a Novavax vaccine. 2021. Data on File.
Additional reading

Additional reading

The mixture of our recombinant, protein-based nanoparticles and our proprietary Matrix-M adjuvant is aimed to help provide robust and functional immunity.

Matrix-M adjuvant technology

Check out our pipeline to find out more about what we are working on and how we’re aiming to help change the future of certain infectious diseases.

Our pipeline—creating tomorrow's vaccines today