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An Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge

Drugs and Vaccines

111024 influenza viruscredit istockphoto.comsebastian kaulitzki 250 x250       

Viruses, bacteria and parasites are responsible for a considerable disease burden in both humans and animals with new and emerging virus infections having the potential to cause future severe epidemics and pandemics.

Vaccines and the discovery of new drugs are one of our most effective means for controlling infectious diseases. All vaccines rely on one simple principle: give the immune system a head start advantage over the pathogen by teaching it to recognise the pathogen before an actual infection occurs. The immune system then forms a “memory” of the pathogen and can build defences capable of eliminating it and its associated disease during a real infection. 

At Cambridge, our researchers are working across disciplines to fast track the scientific discoveries to illuminate fundamental aspects of immunity and responses to infection and examine vaccine delivery, drug discovery, and societal challenges and that will enable us to beat these deadly pathogens.

Cambridge groups and their work on drug discovery and vaccines for infectious disease 


Ferguson Lab (Department of Pathology)

Led by Dr Brian Ferguson, one area the Ferguson Lab studies is immunological memory and vaccines. Professor Ferguson is a co-investigator on the “Understanding how viral innate immune evasion strategies affect adaptive immunity, and the application to vaccine development” with Professor Smith.

Smith Group (Department of Pathology)

Led by Professor of Pathology Geoffrey L Smith, the Smith Group studies the vaccinia virus, the vaccine that was used against smallpox. Professor Smith is currently PI on the MRC-funded project “Understanding how viral innate immune evasion strategies affect adaptive immunity, and the application to vaccine development”.

Lab of Viral Zoonotics (Department of Veterinary Medicine)

Led by Professor Jonathan Heeney, the Lab of Viral Zoonotics studies viruses passed from animals to humans. Professor Heeney led the Emerging Viral Vaccine Antigen Insert Consortium (EVAC) Project, which aimed to generate new vaccine candidate inserts for a variety of emerging and re-emerging viruses including Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, Zika, MERS, Chikungunya, and Dengue. In September 2018, Professor Heeney was awarded funding for the clinical trial of a DIOS Trivalent Haemorrhagic Fever Vaccine project, which will look at protecting humans against Lassa, Ebola, Marburg, CCHF, and Monkeypox. 

Trotter Group (Department of Veterinary Medicine)

The Trotter Group, led by Dr Caroline Trotter, study how well current vaccines work on a population-level and whether and how we should use new vaccines. The majority of Dr Trotter’s work is on meningococcal infection, but she is also involved in research on group B streptococcus, pneumococcus, rotavirus, norovirus, HPV and rabies. Read about mathematical modelling to shape WHO guidelines around meningitis vaccinations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mastroeni Group (Department of Veterinary Medicine)

Dr Pietro Mastroeni’s group studies how the behaviour of bacteria within the host tissues can affect the efficacy of vaccines. The group have tested new generations of vaccines against invasive bacterial diseases, such as septicaemic Salmonella infections, and are studying which vaccines are best for those areas of the world where the immune system of a vaccinee may be partially impaired by concurrent co-morbidities such as malaria, malnutrition, HIV etc.

Clare Bryant Group (Department of Veterinary Medicine)

Our research uses specialised microscopy techniques (with Pietro Cicuta in Physics) to study how inflammatory responses are formed after activation, by visualizing the different protein constituents associating with each other within the cell. We investigate how different host factors influence how well the inflammatory response is produced. Clare is currently on secondment at GSK in Stevenage as part of their Immunology Catalyst program to forge stronger links with academia.  Clare and David Klenerman also have a drug discovery program with Apollo Therapeutics (a collaboration of Cambridge, UCL, Johnson and Johnson, Astra Zeneca and GSK) looking for novel small molecule antagonists against TLR4 as potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and asthma. 

Centre for Pathogen Evolution (Department of Zoology) 

Prof Derek Smith's Pathogen Evolution Group conducts highly translational scientific research focused on improving our understanding and ability to predict pathogen evolution in humans and other animals, provides support to the World Health Organization (WHO) influenza vaccine strain selection process, and develops and distributes free high-quality software. His current work on antigenic mapping is being supported by large grants from the USA.

Julian Rayner Group (CIMR)

The Rayner Group, led by Dr Julian C Rayner, studies vaccine targets in malaria. Find out about the five new malaria targets the group identified, working with Wellcome Sanger Researchers, including the Wright Group.

Wright Group- Cell Surface Signalling Laboratory (Wellcome Sanger Institute)

The Cell Surface Signalling Laboratory, led by Dr Gavin J Wright, is studying vaccine development for  malaria, schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis. Read more about their work in the article “20 year-old mystery of malaria vaccine target solved”.

Gordon Dougan Group (WSI/Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease)

Focuses on the genetic analysis of host/pathogen interactions during infection. Dougan has worked extensively in both academia and industry, making important contributions in the field of vaccinology, working to improve vaccine delivery to poorly resourced regions. His group exploit genomic approaches to study host-pathogen interactions and the analysis of microbial populations, and manages teams working on vaccines, humanised antibodies and scale-up systems.

Ravinda Guptra Group (Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease)

Focusses on host-pathogen and drug-pathogen interactions to inform HIV treatment and curative strategies. In particular, this includes in vitro HIV drug resistance to protease inhibitors and its implications for global scale up of antiretroviral therapy, and investigating the details of macrophage infection in clinical isolates.

Florian Marks Group Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease)

With the International Vaccine Institute and other institutions, we operate field sites in 14 African and 12 Asian countries capable of conducting multi-center epidemiological field studies that provide well-characterized samples for basic research and as a platform for the conduct of clinical trials.

Martin Welch Group (Biochemistry) 

Professor Welch runs a laboratory comprising around 12 people, all of whom work on the biology of the opportunistic human pathogen and multi-drug resistant “superbug”, Pseudomonas aeruginos.

Chris Abell Group (Chemistry) 

The group are interested in using fragment based approaches to develop novel antibiotics for two multi-drug resistant bacterial infections affecting people with Cystic Fibrosis. We are interested in targeting enzymes from Mycobacterium abscessus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The group develops microfluidic microdroplet reactors for applications in biology and material sciences. Chris has co founded several companies including : Astex Pharmaceuticals - Sphere Fluidics - Aqdot.

David Spring Group (Chemistry)

Next Generation Therapeutics. Drug discovery is often the ultimate objective of our research. 


Vaccine & Infectious Diseases Drug Discovery Research News

Legal Innovation Symposium to Support the Development of Antimicrobial Drugs (Meeting 06 Sep 2019 register now).

Ebola and Lassa fever targeted by new vaccine trial and improved surveillance (Department of Veterinary Medicine- Sept 2018)

Cost and scale of field trials for bovine TB vaccine may make them unfeasible (Department of Veterinary Medicine- June 2018)

20 year-old mystery of malaria vaccine target solved (Wellcome Sanger Institute- April 2018)

Grant for vaccine cooling system (Judge Business School- Feb 2018)

Future therapeutics: the hundred-year horizon scan (University of Cambridge - 13 Jun 2017)

Apollo's mission to drive therapeutic innovation (University of Cambridge - 20 Jun 2017)

The bug hunters and the microbiome University of Cambridge -21 Jun 2017)

How to train your drugs: from nanotherapeutics to nanobots (University of Cambridge - 23 Jun 2017)

Five new malaria targets that could lead to an effective vaccine (Wellcome Sanger Institute- Oct 2017)

Genomics reveals how competition between bacteria affects the impact of vaccination (Wellcome Sanger Institute- Oct 2017)

Study clears important hurdle towards developing an HIV vaccine (Department of Veterinary Medicine - Sept 2017)

Final biomedical trial on captive chimpanzees is first oral Ebola vaccine for saving wild apes (Department of Archaeology and Anthropology- March 2017)

Vaccination uptake among Traveller communities significantly lower than in general population (School of Clinical Medicine and Department of Public Health and Primary Care- Sept 2016)

Shaping WHO vaccination guidelines (Department of Veterinary Medicine - July 2016)

Call to arms: how lessons from history could reduce the ‘immunization gap’ (Clare Hall/History- April 2016)

Minimising ‘false positives’ key to vaccinating against bovine TB (Department of Veterinary Medicine - Feb 2015)

A whole host of options [TB Drugs] (University of Cambridge - 09 Oct 2015)

Staying ahead of the game: Pre-empting flu evolution may make for better vaccines (Department of Zoology and Department of Veterinary Medicine, Nov 2014)

Scientists take step towards drug to treat norovirus stomach bug (University of Cambridge - 21 Oct 2014)

Why live vaccines may be most effective for preventing Salmonella infections (Department of Veterinary Medicine - Sept 2014)

Research reveals details of how flu evolves to escape immunity (Department of Zoology, Nov 2013)

Clearing the BAR to oral vaccines (Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology- June 2013)

Hope for threatened Tasmanian devils (Department of Pathology- March 2013)

Harnessing the power of the virus (Department of Pathology- Feb 2013)

Field to fork: safeguarding livestock health (Department of Veterinary Medicine - July 2011)

Towards a ‘super-vaccine’ for swine bacterial diseases (Department of Veterinary Medicine - March 2010)