Having varied approaches to the design and manufacture of vaccines is critical in being able to respond to worldwide needs and newly emerging pathogens. Virus-like particles (VLPs) form the basis of two of the most successful licensed vaccines (against hepatitis B virus [HBV] and human papillomavirus). They are produced by recombinant expression of viral structural proteins, which assemble into immunogenic nanoparticles. VLPs can be modified to present unrelated antigens, and here we describe a universal "bolt-on" platform (termed VelcroVax) where the capturing VLP and the target antigen are produced separately. We utilize a modified HBV core (HBcAg) VLP with surface expression of a high-affinity binding sequence (Affimer) directed against a SUMO tag and use this to capture SUMO-tagged gp1 glycoprotein from the arenavirus Junín virus (JUNV). Using this model system, we have solved the first high-resolution structures of VelcroVax VLPs and shown that the VelcroVax-JUNV gp1 complex induces superior humoral immune responses compared to the noncomplexed viral protein. We propose that this system could be modified to present a range of antigens and therefore form the foundation of future rapid-response vaccination strategies. IMPORTANCE The hepatitis B core protein (HBc) forms noninfectious virus-like particles, which can be modified to present a capturing molecule, allowing suitably tagged antigens to be bound on their surface. This system can be adapted and provides the foundation for a universal "bolt-on" vaccine platform (termed VelcroVax) that can be easily and rapidly modified to generate nanoparticle vaccine candidates.
HBcAg, Junín virus, VLP, platform, vaccine