Virology, in particular Experimental Vaccinology
Focus of research
Rogier Sanders specialises in designing novel antiviral vaccines and antibodies. One of his major contributions was the development of stabilised HIV-1 envelope protein vaccines, which are now in clinical phase testing. In addition, this approach allowed for the first high-resolution structures of HIV-1 envelope protein trimers, which was hailed by Science as a scientific breakthrough in 2013 and fuelled structure-based HIV-1 vaccine design around the globe. Importantly, Rogier Sanders innovative proline-based stabilisation method was later used in the development of vaccines against RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and recently SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19; indeed, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Novavax, and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson have all incorporated this method into their development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, and to date several hundreds of millions of people have received these vaccines, saving countless lives. His contribution to the rapid development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines based on his seminal work with HIV-1 was acknowledged by Dr Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States) during a press conference at the White House in April 2021. Sanders provided a brief historical perspective in a mini-review.
Two additional applications of stabilised glycoprotein antigens are for sorting antigen-specific B cells and generating monoclonal antibodies. For example, an HIV-1 antibody co-discovered by Prof. Sanders is now in clinical testing for the prevention and treatment of HIV-1 infection. Moreover, Sanders co-discovered potently neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The general application is now used by countless labs around the world for a wide range of viruses.