Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a WHO priority pathogen for which vaccines are urgently needed. Using an immune-focusing approach, we created self-assembling particles multivalently displaying critical regions of the MERS-CoV spike protein ─fusion peptide, heptad repeat 2, and receptor binding domain (RBD) ─ and tested their immunogenicity and protective capacity in rabbits. Using a “plug-and-display” SpyTag/SpyCatcher system, we coupled RBD to lumazine synthase (LS) particles producing multimeric RBD-presenting particles (RBD-LS). RBD-LS vaccination induced antibody responses of high magnitude and quality (avidity, MERS-CoV neutralizing capacity, and mucosal immunity) with cross-clade neutralization. The antibody responses were associated with blocking viral replication and upper and lower respiratory tract protection against MERS-CoV infection in rabbits. This arrayed multivalent presentation of the viral RBD using the antigen-SpyTag/LS-SpyCatcher is a promising MERS-CoV vaccine candidate and this platform may be applied for the rapid development of vaccines against other emerging viruses such as SARS-CoV-2.
Overcoming envelope metastability is crucial to trimer-based HIV-1 vaccine design. Here, we present a coherent vaccine strategy by minimizing metastability. For 10 strains across five clades, we demonstrate that the gp41 ectodomain (gp41ECTO) is the main source of envelope metastability by replacing wild-type gp41ECTO with BG505 gp41ECTO of the uncleaved prefusion-optimized (UFO) design. These gp41ECTO-swapped trimers can be produced in CHO cells with high yield and high purity. The crystal structure of a gp41ECTO-swapped trimer elucidates how a neutralization-resistant tier 3 virus evades antibody recognition of the V2 apex. UFO trimers of transmitted/founder viruses and UFO trimers containing a consensus-based ancestral gp41ECTO suggest an evolutionary root of metastability. The gp41ECTO-stabilized trimers can be readily displayed on 24- and 60-meric nanoparticles, with incorporation of additional T cell help illustrated for a hyperstable 60-mer, I3-01. In mice and rabbits, these gp140 nanoparticles induced tier 2 neutralizing antibody responses more effectively than soluble trimers.