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Title:
INFLUENZA VIRUS VACCINES AND USES THEREOF
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2021/074286
Kind Code:
A2
Abstract:
Provided herein are isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides, methods for providing isolated mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides, compositions comprising the same, vaccines comprising the same and methods of their use, in particular in the detection, prevention and/or treatment of influenza.

Inventors:
BRANDENBURG BOERRIES (NL)
LANGEDIJK JOHANNES (NL)
RITSCHEL TINA (NL)
MILDER FERDINAND (NL)
JONGENEELEN MANDY (NL)
Application Number:
PCT/EP2020/079017
Publication Date:
April 22, 2021
Filing Date:
October 15, 2020
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
JANSSEN VACCINES & PREVENTION BV (NL)
International Classes:
C07K14/11; A61K39/145
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
MANTEN, Annemieke et al. (NL)
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Claims:
CLAIMS

1. An isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprising at least two stabilizing mutations in the polypeptide, wherein the stabilizing mutations comprise substitution mutations at: a. amino acid positions 227 and/or 238; and/or b. amino acid positions 384 and/or 476, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

2. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 1, wherein a. amino acid position 227 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of Q, N, F, I, and Y, and/or amino acid position 238 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of N, Q, I, and F; and/or b. amino acid position 384 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of W, F, N, Q, and I, and/or amino acid position 476 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of W, F, Y, I, N, and Q.

3. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 2, wherein a. amino acid position 227 is substituted with a Q and amino acid position 238 is substituted with an I; and/or b. amino acid position 384 is substituted with an I and amino acid position 476 is substituted with an I.

4. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1 to 3, further comprising one stabilizing mutation in the polypeptide, wherein the stabilizing mutation is a substitution at amino acid position 461, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position in SEQ ID NO:l.

5. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 4, wherein amino acid position 461 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of M, L, W, Y, and R.

6. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 5, wherein amino acid position 461 is substituted with an R.

7. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 3, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 19, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:39, or SEQ ID NO:40.

8. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 6, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO:8 or SEQ ID NO: 108.

9. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1 to 8, further comprising at least one additional glycan motif in a head domain of the polypeptide.

10. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 9, wherein the glycan motif comprises a substitution of an amino (N)-linked glycosylation motif in at least one amino acid position selected from the group consisting of: a. 136 or 137, b. 141, and c. 151, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

11. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 10, wherein the glycan motif comprises the substitution of the N-linked glycosylation motif at amino acid positions 136 and 141, 136 and 151, 137 and 141, 137 and 151, or 141 and 151.

12. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 11, wherein the glycan motif comprises the substitution of the N-linked glycosylation motif at amino acid positions 141 and 151.

13. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 10, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:44, or SEQ ID NO:45.

14. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim any one of claims 1 to 13, further comprising a receptor binding site mutation in the polypeptide.

15. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 14, wherein the receptor binding site mutation comprises a substitution at an amino acid position selected from the group consisting of: a. 175, b. 219, c. 257, and d. 258, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

16. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 15, wherein a. 175 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, and Y; b. 219 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, Y, R, and E; c. 257 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, F; or d. 258 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, and F.

17. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 16, wherein a. 175 is substituted with a W, b . 219 i s sub stituted with an E, c. 257 is substituted with an E, or d. 258 is substituted with an E.

18. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 17, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:55, or SEQ ID NO:61.

19. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 14-18, wherein the polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at position 136, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

20. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1-19, further comprising a fusion peptide proximal region (FPPR) deletion mutation.

21. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 20, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion of at least three to seven amino acid residues between amino acid position 369 and 382, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

22. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 21, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion selected from the group consisting of D372-376, D372-378, D373-377, D373-376, D374-379, D374-376, D376-380, and D377-381.

23. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 22, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion selected from D372-376 or D376- 380.

24. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 23, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 62 or SEQ ID NO: 68.

25. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1-24, wherein the mutant hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 70, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO: 82, SEQ ID NO:83, SEQ ID NO:84, SEQ ID NO:91, SEQ ID NO:92, SEQ ID NO:93, SEQ ID NO: 102, SEQ ID NO: 104, or SEQ ID NO: 106.

26. An isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprising a fusion peptide proximal region (FPPR) deletion mutation, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion of at least three to seven amino acid residues between amino acid position 369 and 382, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

27. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 26, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion selected from the group consisting of D372-376, D372-378, D373-377, D373-376, D374-379, D374-376, D376-380, and D377-381.

28. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 26 or 27, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion selected from D372-376 or D376-380.

29. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 28, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 62 or SEQ ID NO: 68.

30. An isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprising a receptor binding site mutation in the polypeptide, wherein the receptor binding site mutation comprises a substitution mutation at an amino acid position selected from the group consisting of: b. 219, c. 257, and d. 258, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

31. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 30, wherein a. 175 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, and Y; b. 219 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, Y, R, and E; c. 257 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, F; or d. 258 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, and F.

32. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 31, wherein a. 175 is substituted with a W, b . 219 i s sub stituted with an E, c. 257 is substituted with an E, or d. 258 is substituted with an E.

33. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 32, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:55, or SEQ ID NO:61.

34. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any of claims 30- 33, wherein the polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at amino acid position 136, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

35. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1 to 17, 19 to 23, 26 to 28, 30 to 32, or 34, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises a heterologous trimerization domain.

36. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1 to 34, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises a carboxy (C)-terminal truncation starting at an amino acid position from amino acid postion 532 to amino acid postion 549, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

37. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 36, wherein the C-terminal truncation starts at amino acid position 532, 534, 536, 539, 541, 543, 545, 547, or 549.

38. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1-37, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at a cleavage site at amino acid position 362, wherein wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

39. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim 38, wherein amino acid position 362 is substituted with a Q.

40. An isolated nucleic acid encoding the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1-39.

41. A vector comprising the isolated nucleic acid of claim 40.

42. A host cell comprising the vector of claim 41.

43. A pharmaceutical composition comprising the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1-39 and a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier.

44. A pharmaceutical composition comprising the isolated nucleic acid of claim 40.

45. A pharmaceutical composition comprising the vector of claim 41.

46. A method of inducing an immune response against an influenza virus in a subject in need thereof, the method comprising administering to the subject in need thereof the pharmaceutical composition of any one of claims 43 to 45.

47. A method of producing an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide, the method comprising culturing the host cell of claim 42 under conditions capable of producing the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide and recovering the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide from the cell or culture.

48. A method of producing the pharmaceutical composition of claim 43, the method comprising combining the isolated mutant influenza polypeptide with a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier.

Description:
INFLUENZA VIRUS VACCINES AND USES THEREOF

STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY FUNDED RESEARCH

This invention was made, at least in part, with Government support under Agreement HHSO 10020170018C, awarded by HHS. The Government has certain rights in the invention.

INTRODUCTION

The invention relates to the field of medicine. Provided herein are isolated influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides, methods for providing hemagglutinin polypeptides, compositions comprising the same, vaccines comprising the same and methods of their use, in particular in the detection, prevention and/or treatment of influenza.

REFERENCE TO SEQUENCE LISTING SUBMITTED ELECTRONICALLY

This application contains a sequence listing, which is submitted electronically via EFS-Web as an ASCII formatted sequence listing with a file name “688097.562US Sequence Lisitng” and a creation date of September 16, 2019 and having a size of 468 kb. The sequence listing submitted via EFS-Web is part of the specification and is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

Influenza A and B viruses are major human pathogens, causing a respiratory disease (commonly referred to as “influenza” or “the flu”) that ranges in severity from sub-clinical infection to primary viral pneumonia which can result in death. The WHO estimates that annual epidemics of influenza result in ~1 billion infections, 3-5 million cases of severe illness and 300,000-500,000 deaths. The severity of pandemic influenza depends on multiple factors, including the virulence of the pandemic virus strain and the level of pre- existing immunity. The most severe influenza pandemic, in 1918, resulted in >40 million deaths worldwide. Influenza vaccines are formulated every year to match the circulating strains, as they evolve antigenically owing to antigenic drift. Nevertheless, vaccine efficacy is not optimal and is dramatically low in the case of an antigenic mismatch between the vaccine and the circulating virus strain. Antiviral agents that target the influenza virus enzyme neuraminidase have been developed for prophylaxis and therapy. However, the use of these antivirals is still limited. Emerging approaches to combat influenza include the development of universal influenza virus vaccines that provide protection against antigenically distant influenza viruses (Krammer et al., Nat. Rev. Disease Primers 4:3 (2018)).

During the last three decades two distinct influenza B lineages have cocirculated in the population to a varying extent each season, and the dominant B lineage in a specific season has proved hard to predict, complicating the decision of which lineage to include in the trivalent vaccine (TIV) (Ambrose et al., Hum. Vaccin. Immunother. 8:81-8 (2012); US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

“Seasonal influenza activity surveillance reports 2001-2018” www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/pastreports.htm (accessed on July 2, 2018); European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control/WHO Regional Office for Europe,

“Annual epidemiological reports on seasonal influenza 2001-2018,” ecdc.europa.eu/en/seasonal-influenza/surveillance-and-diseas e-data/aer (accessed on July 2, 2018)). The importance of an effective coverage of influenza B by vaccination is demonstrated by its contribution to the overall burden of seasonal influenza. According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control, and reports from several European countries, influenza B was responsible for 0.8-82% of the total laboratory confirmed influenza cases between 2001 and 2018 with a seasonal average of 25% (Ambrose et al., Hum. Vaccin. Immunother. 8:81-8 (2012); US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Seasonal influenza activity surveillance reports 2001-2018” www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/pastreports.htm (accessed on July 2, 2018); European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control/WHO Regional Office for Europe,

“Annual epidemiological reports on seasonal influenza 2001-2018,” ecdc.europa.eu/en/seasonal-influenza/surveillance-and-diseas e-data/aer (accessed on July 2, 2018); Dijkstra et al., Epidemiol. Infect. 137:473-9 (2009); Peltola et al., Clin. Infect. Dis. 36:299-305 (2003)). Moreover, influenza B is a major contributor to the total morbidity and mortality from influenza, with attributable hospitalization rate similar to influenza A/H3N2 and greater than A/H1N1 (Thompson et al., JAMA 292:1333-40 (2004)), accounting for 15% of all influenza attributable respiratory and circulatory-related death in the United States and 34% among paediatric patients (Ambrose et al., Hum. Vaccin. Immunother. 8:81-8 (2012); Thompson et al., JAMA 289:179-86 (2003)). These principles prompted several health authorities, including the World Health Organization and the US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, to recommend quadrivalent influenza vaccine (QIV) containing two influenza B antigens (one of each B lineage) as one of the options for seasonal vaccination (Grohskopf et al., MMWRRecomm. Rep. 66:1-20 (2017); Grohskopf et al, MMWRRecomm. Rep. 67:643-5 (2018); World Health Organization, “Recommended composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2017-2018 northern hemisphere influenza season,” www.who.int/influenza/vaccines/virus/recommendations/2018_19 _north/en (accessed on July 2, 2018)).

The current immunization practice relies on early identification of circulating influenza viruses to allow for timely production of an effective seasonal influenza vaccine. Apart from the inherent difficulties in predicting the strains that will be dominant during the next season, antiviral resistance and immune escape also play a role in failure of current vaccines to prevent morbidity and mortality. In addition to this the possibility of a pandemic caused by a highly virulent viral strain originating from animal reservoirs and reassorted to increase human to human spread, poses a significant and realistic threat to global health.

Influenza type B virus strains are almost exclusively found in humans. The antigenic variation in HA within the influenza type B virus strains is smaller than those observed within the type A strains. Two genetically and antigenically distinct lineages of influenza B virus are circulating in humans, as represented by the B/Yamagata/16/88 (also referred to as B/Yamagata) and B/Victoria/2/87 (B/Victoria) lineages (Ferguson et al., 2003). Although the spectrum of disease caused by influenza B viruses is generally milder than that caused by influenza A viruses, severe illness requiring hospitalization is still frequently observed with influenza B infection.

It is known that antibodies that neutralize the influenza virus are primarily directed against hemagglutinin (HA). Hemagglutinin or HA is a trimeric glycoprotein that is anchored to the viral coat and has a dual function: it is responsible for binding to the cell surface receptor sialic acid and, after uptake, it mediates the fusion of the viral and endosomal membrane leading to release of the viral RNA in the cytosol of the cell. HA comprises a large head domain and a smaller stem domain. Attachment to the viral membrane is mediated by a C-terminal anchoring sequence connected to the stem domain. The protein is post-translationally cleaved in a designated loop to yield two polypeptides, HA1 and HA2 (the full sequence is referred to as HAO). The membrane distal head region is mainly derived from HA1 and the membrane proximal stem region primarily from HA2.

The reason that the seasonal influenza vaccine must be updated every year is the large variability of the virus. In the hemagglutinin molecule this variation is particularly manifested in the head domain where antigenic drift and shift have resulted in a large number of different variants. Since this is also the area that is immunodominant, most neutralizing antibodies are directed against this domain and act by interfering with receptor binding. The combination of immunodominance and large variation of the head domain also explains why infection with a particular strain does not lead to immunity to other strains: the antibodies elicited by the first infection only recognize a limited number of strains closely related to the virus of the primary infection.

Thus, there is a need for developing a universal influenza virus vaccine that stimulates the production of a robust, broadly protective response against current and future influenza virus strains (both seasonal and pandemic), in particular, providing protection against the influenza B virus for effective prevention and therapy of influenza.

SUMMARY

Provided herein are isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides, methods for providing the isolated hemagglutinin polypeptides, compositions comprising the same, vaccines comprising the same, and methods of using the compositions and vaccines.

Provided herein are isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides.

The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides comprise at least two stabilizing mutations in the polypeptide, wherein the stabilizing mutations comprise substitution mutations at (a) amino acid positions 227 and/or 238; and/or (b) amino acid positions 384 and/or 476, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l. In certain embodiments, (a) amino acid position 227 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of Q, N, F, I, and Y, and/or amino acid position 238 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of N, Q, I, and F; and/or (b) amino acid position 384 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of W, F, N, Q, and I, and/or amino acid position 476 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of W, F, Y, I, N, and Q. In certain embodiments, (a) amino acid position 227 is substituted with a Q and amino acid position 238 is substituted with an I; and/or (b) amino acid position 384 is substituted with an I and amino acid position 476 is substituted with an I. In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises one additional stabilizing mutation in the polypeptide. The additional stabilizing mutation is a substitution at amino acid position 461, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position in SEQ ID NO:l. In certain embodiments, amino acid position 461 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of M, L, W, Y, and R. In certain embodiments, amino acid position 461 is substituted with an R. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide can, for example, comprise an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 19, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:39 or SEQ ID NO:40. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide can, for example, comprise an amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 8.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises at least one additional glycan motif in a head domain of the polypeptide. The glycan motif can, for example, comprise a substitution of an amino (N)4inked glycosylation motif in at least one amino acid position selected from the group consisting of (a) 136 or 137, (b) 141, and (c) 151, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1. The glycan motif can, for example, comprise a substitution of the N-linked glycosylation motif at amino acid positions 136 and 141, 136 and 151, 137 and 141, 137 and 151, or 141 and 151.

In certain embodiments, the glycan motif comprises the substitution of the N-linked glycosylation motif at amino acid positions 141 and 151. In certain embodiments, the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:44, or SEQ ID NO:45.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises or solely comprises a receptor binding site mutation in the polypeptide. The receptor binding site mutation can, for example, comprise a substitution at an amino acid position selected from the group consisting of (a) 175,

(b) 219, (c) 257, and (d) 258, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l. In certain embodiments, (a) 175 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, and Y; (b) 219 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, Y, R, and E; (c) 257 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E,

D, V, F; or (d) 258 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, and F. In certain embodiments, (a) 175 is substituted with a W, (b) 219 is substituted with an E, (c) 257 is substituted with an E, or (d) 258 is substituted with an E. In certain embodiments, the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:55, or SEQ ID NO:61.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at position 136, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide, further comprises or solely comprises a fusion peptide proximal region (FPPR) deletion mutation. The FPPR deletion mutation can, for example, comprise a deletion of at least three to seven amino acid residues between amino acid position 369 and 382, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1. The FPPR deletion mutation can, for example, comprise a deletion selected from the group consisting of D372-376, D372-378, D373-377, D373-376, D374-379, D374-376, D376-380, and D377-381. In certain embodiments, the FPPR deletion mutation is a deletion selected from D372-376 or D376-380. In certain embodiments, the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 62 or SEQ ID NO: 68.

In certain embdiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:70, SEQ ID NO:81, SEQ ID NO:82, SEQ ID NO:83, or SEQ ID NO:84.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide can comprise a foldon domain. In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises a carboxy (C)-terminal truncation starting at an amino acid position from amino acid 532 to amino acid position 549, wherein the amino acid positon corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1. In certain embodiments, the C-terminal truncation starts at amino acid position 532, 534, 536, 539, 541, 543, 545, 547, or 549, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1. In certain embodiments, the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at a cleavage site at amino acid position 362, wherein wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l. The cleavage site substitution at amino acid position 362 can, for example, be a Q.

Also provided is an isolated nucleic acid encoding an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide described herein.

Also provided is a vector comprising an isolated nucleic acid decribed herein.

Also provided is a host cell comprising a vector described herein.

Also provided is a pharmaceutical composition comprising an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide, an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin nucleic acid, and/or a vector described herein and a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier.

Also provided are methods of inducing an immune response against an influenza virus in a subject in need thereof. The methods comprise administering to the subject in need thereof a pharmaceutical composition described herein.

Also provided are methods of producing an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide. The methods comprise culturing a host cell described herein under conditions capable of producing the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide and recovering the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide from the cell or culture.

Also provided are methods of producing a pharmaceutical composition described herein. The methods comprise combining the isolated mutant influenza polypeptide with a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier.

The various embodiments and uses of the polypeptides according to the invention will become clear from the following detailed description of the invention.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE FIGURES

FIGS. 1A-1B show the structure and design elements of the polypeptides of the invention. FIG. 1 A shows the three-dimensional representation of the polypeptides of the invention (representing the ectodomain of influenza B HA; pdb ID 4NRJ, Ni et al., Virology 450-451:71-83 (2014)). FIG. IB shows a schematic drawing of a certain polypeptide of the invention UF VI 80846 (SEQ ID NO:2) with the positions of the substitutions indicated; * introduction of N-linked glycosylation motifs, ¥ fusion peptide proximal region (FPPR) deletion: residues 372-376 are omitted, f C -terminus truncated in this example after residue 536 (numbering refers to WT HA; SEQ ID NO:l).

FIGS. 2A-2F show the analysis of EXPI-293 expressed polypeptides with stabilizing mutations, normalized to reference wild type FL HA B/Brisbane/60/08 containing a Foldon trimerization domain (UFV170090) (SEQ ID NO:3). FIG. 2A shows a schematic representation of the monomeric HA ectodomain with the positions of the amino acid substitutions indicated in spheres. Specified are the residues as present in wild type (WT) HA. FIG. 2B shows AlphaLISA binding of monoclonal antibody CR9114 to polypeptides of the invention carrying various amino acid substitutions at position 461. Binding is shown as a relative % of respective reference HA sequence. FIG. 2C shows AlphaLISA binding of monoclonal antibody CR9114 to polypeptides of the invention carrying various amino acid substitutions at positions 227 and 236. Binding is shown as a relative % of respective reference HA sequence. FIG. 2D shows AlphaLISA binding of monoclonal antibody CR9114 to polypeptides of the invention carrying various amino acid substitutions at positions 384 and 476. Binding is shown as a relative % of respective reference HA sequence. FIG. 2E shows the expression level and CR9114 binding as determined by AlphaLISA and temperature stability as determined by DSF of polypeptides with combinations of stabilizing substitutions. Binding is shown as a relative % of respective reference HA sequence. FIG. 2F shows SEC profiles of polypeptides; dotted line representing the WT HA (UFV170090) including Foldon trimerization domain. The black lines representing stabilized polypeptides with (UF VI 70525 (SEQ ID NO: 19), and UFV170556 (SEQ ID NO:35)) and without (UFV171348 (SEQ ID NO:39) and UFV171387 (SEQ ID NO:40)) a foldon trimerization domain. The symbol as present in Figure 2B, 2C, 2D, and 2E indicates WT residues are present at position indicated in the column header. In FIG. 2E, the ‘+’ and symbol in the Foldon column indicate the presence or absence of the C-terminal foldon trimerization domain, respectively.

FIGS. 3A-3B show the analysis of EXPI-293 expressed polypeptides with introduced amino (N)-linked glycosylation motifs in the head domain. FIG. 3 A shows a schematic representation of the wild type monomeric HA with the positions of the point substitutions indicated in spheres. FIG. 3B shows the protein expression levels, trimer content, and antibody binding as determined by AlphaLISA. Values are normalized to reference polypeptide UFV171990 (SEQ ID NO:41) for UFV171991 (SEQ ID NO:45), UFV171992 (SEQ ID NO:44), and UFV171993 (SEQ ID NO:42); and reference polypeptide UFV170090 (SEQ ID NO:3) for UFV171472 (SEQ ID NO:42). The ’+‘ symbol indicates the presence of an N-linked glycosylation motif at the particular position. Symbol F indicates the presence of Foldon trimerization domain.

FIGS. 4A-4B show the analysis of EXPI-293 expressed polypeptides with introduced mutations near the receptor binding site. FIG. 4A shows a schematic representation of monomeric HA with positions of the point substitutions indicated in spheres. FIG. 4B shows the protein expression levels, turner content, and antibody binding as determined by AlphaLISA. Values are normalized to reference polypeptide UFV171990 (SEQ ID NO:41). The symbol indicates the particular position is not mutated and the WT residue is present.

FIGS. 5A-5B show the analysis of EXPI-293 expressed polypeptides with deletions in the Fusion Peptide Proximal Region (FPPR). FIG. 5A shows a schematic representation of the monomeric ectodomain of HA with the area of the deleted position in the FPPR indicated in black spheres. FIG. 5B shows the protein expression levels, trimer content, and antibody binding as determined by AlphaLISA. Values are normalized to reference polypeptide UFV171990 (SEQ ID NO:41).

FIG. 6 shows SEC profiles of EXPI-293 culture supernatants expressing soluble trimeric polypeptide variants with alternative C-terminal truncations (in UFV180454 (SEQ ID NO:71) at position 549 stepwise down to position 532 in UFV180462 (SEQ ID NO:79)); polypeptide (black line) and full-length reference UFV180284 (SEQ ID NO:70) (dotted line) that includes a C-tag.

FIGS. 7A-7E show the analysis of EXPI-CHO culture supernatant expressing soluble polypeptides and in vitro characterization of purified polypeptides. Various combinations of substitutions were evaluated; amino (N)-linked glycan motifs in the head domain, stabilizing substitutions, receptor binding site substitution 257E and FPPR deletions. FIG. 7A shows SEC profiles of supernatant of cells expressing UFV180131 (SEQ ID NO:81) (left panel) and of purified UFV180131 (SEQ ID NO: 81) (right panel). FIG. 7B shows the expression level of polypeptides as determine by OCTET. EC50 values of stem (CR9114), neck (CR8071), and head domain (SD84) specific antibodies to purified HA as determined by ELISA. Temperature stability of purified polypeptides by Differential Scanning Fluorimetry. The symbol indicates that a particular position is not mutated and the WT residue is present. FIG. 7C shows the protein expression levels of construct UF VI 80846 (SEQ ID NO: 84) expressed in EXPI-CHO culture supernatants as determined by OCTET, EC50 values of stem (CR9114), neck (CR8071), and head domain (34B5 (WO2015/148806)) specific antibodies to purified HA as determined by ELISA, and temperature stability of the purified polypeptide by Differential Scanning Fluorimetry. FIG. 7D shows an alignment of the Victoria lineage (SEQ ID NO: 1), the Yamagata lineage (SEQ ID NO:94), the consensus sequence (SEQ ID NO:95), UFV170088 (SEQ ID NO:80), UFV180131 (SEQ ID NO:81), UFV180137 (SEQ ID NO:82),

UF VI 80251 (SEQ ID NO:83), and UFV180284 (SEQ ID NO: ). FIG. 7E shows an alignment of the Victoria lineage (SEQ ID NO: 1), the Yamagata lineage (SEQ ID NO:94), the consensus sequence (SEQ ID NO:95), UFV170088 (SEQ ID NO:80),

UF VI 80846 (SEQ ID NO:84), UFV180847 (SEQ ID NO:91); UFV180848 (SEQ ID NO:92), and UFV180849 (SEQ ID NO:93).

DEFINITIONS

Definitions of terms as used in the present invention are given below.

An amino acid according to the invention can be any of the twenty naturally occurring (or ‘standard’ amino acids) or variants thereof, such as e.g. D-proline (the D- enantiomer of proline), or any variants that are not naturally found in proteins, such as e.g. norleucine. The standard amino acids can be divided into several groups based on their properties. Important factors are charge, hydrophilicity or hydrophobicity, size and functional groups. These properties are important for protein structure and protein- protein interactions. Some amino acids have special properties such as cysteine, that can form covalent disulfide bonds (or disulfide bridges) to other cysteine residues, proline that forms a cycle to the polypeptide backbone, and glycine that is more flexible than other amino acids. Table 1 shows the abbreviations and properties of the standard amino acids.

The term “amino acid sequence identity” refers to the degree of identity or similarity between a pair of aligned amino acid sequences, usually expressed as a percentage. Percent identity is the percentage of amino acid residues in a candidate sequence that are identical (i.e., the amino acid residues at a given position in the alignment are the same residue) or similar (i.e., the amino acid substitution at a given position in the alignment is a conservative substitution, as discussed below), to the corresponding amino acid residue in the peptide after aligning the sequences and introducing gaps, if necessary, to achieve the maximum percent sequence homology. Sequence homology, including percentages of sequence identity and similarity, are determined using sequence alignment techniques well-known in the art, such as by visual inspection and mathematical calculation, or more preferably, the comparison is done by comparing sequence information using a computer program. An exemplary, preferred computer program is the Genetics Computer Group (GCG; Madison, Wis.) Wisconsin package version 10.0 program, 'GAP' (Devereux et al. (1984)).

“Conservative substitution” refers to replacement of an amino acid of one class is with another amino acid of the same class. In particular embodiments, a conservative substitution does not alter the structure or function, or both, of a polypeptide. Classes of amino acids for the purposes of conservative substitution include hydrophobic (e.g. Met, Ala, Val, Leu), neutral hydrophilic (e.g. Cys, Ser, Thr), acidic (e.g. Asp, Glu), basic (e.g. Asn, Gin, His, Lys, Arg), conformation disrupters (e.g. Gly, Pro) and aromatic (e.g. Trp, Tyr, Phe).

As used herein, the terms “disease” and “disorder” are used interchangeably to refer to a condition in a subject. In some embodiments, the condition is a viral infection, in particular an influenza virus infection. In specific embodiments, a term “disease” refers to the pathological state resulting from the presence of the virus in a cell or a subject, or by the invasion of a cell or subject by the virus. In certain embodiments, the condition is a disease in a subject, the severity of which is decreased by inducing an immune response in the subject through the administration of an immunogenic composition.

As used herein, the term “effective amount” in the context of administering a therapy to a subject refers to the amount of a therapy which has a prophylactic and/or therapeutic effect(s). In certain embodiments, an “effective amount” in the context of administration of a therapy to a subject refers to the amount of a therapy which is sufficient to achieve a reduction or amelioration of the severity of an influenza virus infection, disease or symptom associated therewith, such as, but not limited to a reduction in the duration of an influenza virus infection, disease or symptom associated therewith, the prevention of the progression of an influenza virus infection, disease or symptom associated therewith, the prevention of the development or onset or recurrence of an influenza virus infection, disease or symptom associated therewith, the prevention or reduction of the spread of an influenza virus from one subject to another subject, the reduction of hospitalization of a subject and/or hospitalization length, an increase of the survival of a subject with an influenza virus infection or disease associated therewith, elimination of an influenza virus infection or disease associated therewith, inhibition or reduction of influenza virus replication, reduction of influenza virus titer; and/or enhancement and/or improvement of the prophylactic or therapeutic effect(s) of another therapy. In certain embodiments, the effective amount does not result in complete protection from an influenza virus disease but results in a lower titer or reduced number of influenza viruses compared to an untreated subject. Benefits of a reduction in the titer, number or total burden of influenza virus include, but are not limited to, less severe symptoms of the infection, fewer symptoms of the infection and a reduction in the length of the disease associated with the infection.

The term “host,” as used herein, is intended to refer to an organism or a cell into which a vector such as a cloning vector or an expression vector has been introduced. The organism or cell can be prokaryotic or eukaryotic. Preferably, the host comprises isolated host cells, e.g. host cells in culture. The term “host cells” merely signifies that the cells are modified for the (over)-expression of the polypeptides of the invention. It should be understood that the term host is intended to refer not only to the particular subject organism or cell but to the progeny of such an organism or cell as well. Because certain modifications can occur in succeeding generations due to either mutation or environmental influences, such progeny may not, in fact, be identical to the parent organism or cell, but are still included within the scope of the term “host” as used herein.

The term “included” or “including” as used herein is deemed to be followed by the words “without limitation.”

As used herein, the term “infection” means the invasion by, multiplication and/or presence of a virus in a cell or a subject. In one embodiment, an infection is an “active” infection, i.e., one in which the virus is replicating in a cell or a subject. Such an infection is characterized by the spread of the virus to other cells, tissues, and/or organs, from the cells, tissues, and/or organs initially infected by the virus. An infection can also be a latent infection, i.e., one in which the virus is not replicating. In certain embodiments, an infection refers to the pathological state resulting from the presence of the virus in a cell or a subject, or by the invasion of a cell or subject by the virus. Influenza viruses are classified into influenza virus types: genus A, B and C.

The term “subtype” specifically includes all individual “strains,” within each subtype, which usually result from mutations and show different pathogenic profiles, including natural isolates as well as man-made mutants or reassortants and the like. Such strains can also be referred to as various “isolates” of a viral subtype. Accordingly, as used herein, the terms “strains” and “isolates” can be used interchangeably. The current nomenclature for human influenza virus strains or isolates includes the type (genus) of virus, i.e. A, B or C, the geographical location of the first isolation, strain number and year of isolation.

As used herein, the term “influenza virus disease” refers to the pathological state resulting from the presence of an influenza virus, e.g. an influenza A or B virus in a cell or subject or the invasion of a cell or subject by an influenza virus. In specific embodiments, the term refers to a respiratory illness caused by an influenza virus.

As used herein, the term “nucleic acid” is intended to include DNA molecules (e.g., cDNA or genomic DNA) and RNA molecules (e.g., mRNA) and analogs of the DNA or RNA generated using nucleotide analogs. The nucleic acid can be single- stranded or double-stranded. The nucleic acid molecules can be modified chemically or biochemically or can contain non-natural or derivatized nucleotide bases, as will be readily appreciated by those of skill in the art. Such modifications include, for example, labels, methylation, substitution of one or more of the naturally occurring nucleotides with an analog, internucleotide modifications such as uncharged linkages (e.g., methyl phosphonates, phosphotriesters, phosphoramidates, carbamates, etc.), charged linkages (e.g., phosphorothioates, phosphorodithioates, etc.), pendent moieties (e.g., polypeptides), intercalators (e.g., acridine, psoralen, etc.), chelators, alkylators, and modified linkages (e.g., alpha anomeric nucleic acids, etc.). A reference to a nucleic acid sequence encompasses its complement unless otherwise specified. Thus, a reference to a nucleic acid molecule having a particular sequence should be understood to encompass its complementary strand, with its complementary sequence. The complementary strand is also useful, e.g., for anti-sense therapy, hybridization probes and PCR primers.

As used herein, in certain embodiments the numbering of the amino acids in hemagglutinin is based on the numbering of amino acids in hemagglutinin of a wild type influenza virus, e.g. the numbering of the amino acids of the influenza strain B/Brisbane/60/08 (SEQ ID NO: 1). As used in the present invention, the wording “amino acid position “x” thus means the amino acid corresponding to the amino acid at position x in hemagglutinin of the particular wild type influenza virus, e.g. B/Brisbane/60/08 (SEQ ID NO: 1). It will be understood by the skilled person that equivalent amino acids in other influenza virus strains and/or subtypes can be determined by multiple sequence alignment. Note that, in the numbering system used throughout this application 1 refers to the N-terminal amino acid of an immature hemagglutinin protein (SEQ ID NO: 1). The mature sequence starts e.g. on position 16 of SEQ ID NO: 1. It will be understood by the skilled person that the leader sequence (or signal sequence) that directs transport of a protein during production (e.g. corresponding to amino acids 1-15 of SEQ ID NO: 1), generally is not present in the final polypeptide, that is e.g. used in a vaccine. In certain embodiments, the polypeptides according to the invention thus comprise an amino acid sequence without the leader sequence, i.e. the amino acid sequence is based on the amino acid sequence of hemagglutinin without the signal sequence.

“Polypeptide” refers to a polymer of amino acids linked by amide bonds as is known to those of skill in the art. As used herein, the term can refer to a single polypeptide chain linked by covalent amide bonds. The term can also refer to multiple polypeptide chains associated by non-covalent interactions such as ionic contacts, hydrogen bonds, Van der Waals contacts and hydrophobic contacts. Those of skill in the art will recognize that the term includes polypeptides that have been modified, for example by post-translational processing such as signal peptide cleavage, disulfide bond formation, glycosylation (e.g., N-linked and O-linked glycosylation), protease cleavage and lipid modification (e.g. S-palmitoylation).

The term “vector” denotes a nucleic acid molecule into which a second nucleic acid molecule can be inserted for introduction into a host where it will be replicated, and in some cases expressed. In other words, a vector is capable of transporting a nucleic acid molecule to which it has been linked. Cloning as well as expression vectors are contemplated by the term “vector,” as used herein. Vectors include, but are not limited to, plasmids, cosmids, bacterial artificial chromosomes (BAC) and yeast artificial chromosomes (YAC) and vectors derived from bacteriophages or plant or animal (including human) viruses. Vectors comprise an origin of replication recognized by the proposed host and in case of expression vectors, promoter and other regulatory regions recognized by the host. Certain vectors are capable of autonomous replication in a host into which they are introduced (e.g., vectors having a bacterial origin of replication can replicate in bacteria). Other vectors can be integrated into the genome of a host upon introduction into the host, and thereby are replicated along with the host genome.

As used herein, the term “wild-type” in the context of a virus refers to influenza viruses that are prevalent, circulating naturally and producing typical outbreaks of disease.

As used herein, the term “glycan motif’ or “N-linked glycosylation motif’ refers to a specific amino acid motif of a polypeptide, such that the specific amino acid motif can be glycosylated through the addition of a glycan molecule. An N- linked glycosylation motif comprises the specific amino acid motif of NxT/S (wherein x is not a P). In a polypeptide, wherein an N-linked glycosylation motif or glycan motif is substituted, the amino acid position listed correlates with the asparagine of the NxT/S amino acid motif. By way of an example, in the polypeptides described below, for positions 136, 137, and 151 an N and T were introduced into the polypeptide, with the N being introduced at postion 136, 137, and 151 with a threonine being introduced at positions 138, 139, and 153, respectively, whereas for position 141, an asparagine (N) was present in the wild type sequence, and the motif was completed by introducing a threonine at position 143.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Influenza viruses have a significant impact on global public health, causing millions of cases of severe illness each year, thousands of deaths, and considerable economic losses. Current trivalent and quadrivalent influenza vaccines elicit a potent neutralizing antibody response to the vaccine strains and closely related isolates, but rarely extend to more diverged strains within a subtype or to other subtypes. In addition, selection of the appropriate vaccine strains presents many challenges and frequently results in sub-optimal protection. Furthermore, predicting the subtype of the next pandemic virus, including when and where it will arise, is currently impossible.

Hemagglutinin (HA) is the major envelope glycoprotein from influenza viruses which is the major target of neutralizing antibodies. Hemagglutinin has two main functions during the entry process. First, hemagglutinin mediates attachment of the virus to the surface of target cells through interactions with sialic acid receptors. Second, after endocytosis of the virus, hemagglutinin subsequently triggers the fusion of the viral and endosomal membranes to release its genome into the cytoplasm of the target cell. HA comprises a large ectodomain of -500 amino acids that is cleaved by host- derived enzymes to generate 2 polypeptides that remain linked by a disulfide bond. The majority of the N-terminal fragment (HA1, 320-330 amino acids) forms a membrane- distal globular domain that contains the receptor-binding site and most determinants recognized by virus- neutralizing antibodies. The smaller C-terminal portion (HA2,

-180 amino acids) forms a stem-like structure that anchors the globular domain to the cellular or viral membrane. The degree of sequence homology between HA1 polypeptides is less than the degress of sequence homology between HA2 polypeptides. The most conserved region is the sequence around the cleavage site, particularly the HA2 N-terminal amino acids, which is conserved among all influenza A and B virus subtypes. Part of this region is exposed as a surface loop in the HA precursor molecule (HA0) but becomes inaccessible when HA0 is cleaved into HA1 and HA2 (Lorieau et al, Proc. Natl. Acad. Aci. USA 107:11341 (2010)).

Most neutralizing antibodies bind to the loops that surround the receptor binding site and interfere with receptor binding and attachment. Since these loops are highly variable, most antibodies targeting these regions are strain-specific, explaining why current vaccines elicit such limited, strain-specific immunity. Recently, however, fully human monoclonal antibodies against influenza virus hemagglutinin with broad cross- neutralizing potency were generated. Functional and structural analysis have revealed that these antibodies interfere with the membrane fusion process and are directed against highly conserved epitopes in the stem domain of the influenza HA protein (Throsby et al, 2008; Ekiert et al. 2009, WO 2008/028946, W02010/130636, WO 2013/007770). Isolated mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides

According to the present invention new isolated mutant hemagluttinin polypeptides have been designed presenting epitopes for recognition by broadly protecting antibodies. These polypeptides can be used to create a universal epitope- based vaccine inducing protection against a broad range of influenza strains. The polypeptides are stabilized and then the highly variable and immunodominant part, i.e. the head domain, is shielded, immunodampened, through the introduction of glycan molecules. The head can have multiple glycans to shield the epitopes from being recognized by the immune system, thus redirecting the immune response towards the more conserved neck and stem domain to produce broadly protective antibodies. The isolated mutant hemagluttinin polypeptides of this invention are capable of presenting the conserved epitopes to the immune system in the absence of dominant epitopes that are present in the membrane distal head domain. To this end, part of the primary sequence of the hemagluttinin polypeptide making up the head domain is shielded with glycan molecules. The resulting polypeptide sequence is further modified by introducing specific amino acid substitutions that stabilize the native 3 -dimensional structure of the remaining part of the hemagglutinin polypeptide.

According to the invention, the isolated mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides comprise one or more additional mutations, i.e. amino acid substitutions and/or glycan motif substitutions, in the head domain, the stem domain, and/or the receptor binding site substitution, as compared to the amino acid sequence of corresponding wild-type influenza virus hemagglutinin polypeptide, i.e. the influenza virus on which the mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides are based.

According to embodiments of the invention, the isolated mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides comprise amino acid substitutions, glycan motif substitutions, receptor binding site substitutions, and/or deletion mutations. When referencing the substitutions and deletion mutations, an amino acid position(s) for the substitution(s) and/or deletion(s) is provided. The amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 1, as provided herein. By way of an example, an amino acid substitution at amino acid position 227 would correspond to an amino acid substitution of the lysine (K) at position 227 of SEQ ID NO: 1. By way of another example, an amino acid substitution at amino acid position 238 would correspond to an amino acid substitution of the histidine at position 238 of SEQ ID NO: 1. The specific amino acid position and residue can vary based on the starting hemagglutinin polypeptide sequence of a specific influenza strain; however, one skilled in the art would be capable of performing a sequence alignment to identify the corresponding amino acid position and residue that corresponds to the position on SEQ ID NO: 1.

In embodiments of the invention, amino acid substitutions at the specific amino acid positions will be chosen based on factors which include, but are not limited to, potential for steric hindrance, charge attraction, charge repulsion, common properties of the amino acid side chain, secondary and/or tertiary structure considerations, and/or frequency of use in respective host cells. A person skilled in the art would understand which factors to consider when designing amino acid substitutions for the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides of the invention.

In certain aspects of the invention, provided herein are isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides comprising at least two stabilizing mutations in the polypeptide, wherein the stabilizing mutations comprise substitution mutations at (a) amino acid positions 227 and/or 238; and/or (b) amino acid positions 384 and/or 476, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l. In certain embodiments, (a) amino acid position 227 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of Q, N, F, I, and Y, and/or amino acid position 238 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of N, Q, I, and F; and/or (b) amino acid position 384 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of W, F, N, Q, and I, and/or amino acid position 476 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of W, F, Y, I, N, and Q. In certain embodiments, (a) amino acid position 227 is substituted with a Q and amino acid position 238 is substituted with an I; and/or (b) amino acid position 384 is substituted with an I and amino acid position 476 is substituted with an I.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises one additional stabilizing mutation in the polypeptide. The additional stabilizing mutation is a substitution at amino acid position 461, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position in SEQ ID NO:l. In certain embodiments, amino acid position 461 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of M, L, W, Y, and R. In certain embodiments, amino acid position 461 is substituted with an R.

The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide can, for example, comprise an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 19, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:39 or SEQ ID NO:40. The isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide can, for example, comprise the amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO:8 or SEQ ID No: 108.

In certain aspects of the invention, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises at least one additional glycan motif in a head domain of the polypeptide. The glycan motif can, for example, comprise a substitution of an amino (N)4inked glycosylation motif in at least one amino acid position selected from the group consisting of (a) 136 or 137, (b) 141, and (c) 151, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1. The glycan motif can, for example, comprise a substitution of the N-linked glycosylation motif at amino acid positions 136 and 141, 136 and 151, 137 and 141, 137 and 151, or 141 and 151.

In certain embodiments, the glycan motif comprises the substitution of the N-linked glycosylation motif at amino acid positions 141 and 151. In certain embodiments, the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:44, or SEQ ID NO:45.

In certain aspects of the invention, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises or solely comprises a receptor binding site mutation in the polypeptide. The receptor binding site mutation can, for example, comprise a substitution at an amino acid position selected from the group consisting of (a) 175,

(b) 219, (c) 257, and (d) 258, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l. In certain embodiments, (a) 175 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, and Y; (b) 219 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, Y, R, and E; (c) 257 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E,

D, V, F; or (d) 258 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, and F. In certain embodiments, (a) 175 is substituted with a W, (b) 219 is substituted with an E, (c) 257 is substituted with an E, or (d) 258 is substituted with an E. In certain embodiments, the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:55, or SEQ ID NO:61.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at position 136, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

In certain aspects of the invention, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide, further comprises or solely comprises a fusion peptide proximal region (FPPR) deletion mutation. The FPPR deletion mutation can, for example, comprise a deletion of at least three to seven amino acid residues between amino acid position 369 and 382, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1. The FPPR deletion mutation can, for example, comprise a deletion selected from the group consisting of D372-376, D372-378, D373-377, D373-376, D374-379, D374-376, D376-380, and D377-381. In certain embodiments, the FPPR deletion mutation is a deletion selected from D372-376 or D376-380. In certain embodiments, the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 62 or SEQ ID NO: 68.

In certain embdiments, the isolated mutant hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:70, SEQ ID NO:81,

SEQ ID NO:82, SEQ ID NO:83, or SEQ ID NO:84.

In certain embodiments, the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at a cleavage site at amino acid position 362, wherein wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l. The cleavage site substitution at amino acid position 362 can, for example, be a Q.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide is derived from a hemagglutinin of an influenza B virus. In particular, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide can be derived from hemagglutinin of an influenza B virus from the B/Yamagata lineage (as represented by B/Yamagata/16/88) or from the B/Victoria lineage (as represented by B/Victoria/2/87). In certain embodiments, the polypeptide is derived from B/Brisbane/60/08, B/Iowa/06/2017, or B/Lee/40.

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide can comprise a heterologous trimerization domain (e.g., a foldon).

In certain embodiments, the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises a carboxy (C)-terminal truncation starting at an amino acid position from amino acid 532 to amino acid position 549, wherein the amino acid positon corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1. In certain embodiments, the C-terminal truncation starts at amino acid position 532, 534, 536, 539, 541, 543, 545, 547, or 549, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

Influenza hemagglutinin (HA) in its native form exists as a trimer on the cell or virus membrane. In certain embodiments the intracellular and transmembrane sequence is removed so that a secreted (soluble) polypeptide is produced following expression in cells. Methods to express and purify secreted ectodomains of HA have been described (see e.g. Dopheide et al 2009; Ekiert et al 2009, 2011; Stevens et al 2004, 2006; Wilson et al 1981). A person skilled in the art will understand that these methods can also be applied directly to the isolated mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides of the invention in order to achieve expression of secreted (soluble) polypeptide. Therefore, these polypeptides are also encompassed in the invention.

Optionally, a his-tag sequence (HHHHHH (SEQ ID NO: 85) or HHHHHHH (SEQ ID NO: 86)) may be linked to the (optionally truncated) isolated mutant hemagglutining polypeptide, for purification purposes, optionally connected through a linker. Optionally the linker may contain a proteolytic cleavage site to enzymatically remove the his-tag after purification.

In certain embodiments, the polypeptides are further stabilized by introducing a sequence known to form trimeric structures, i.e.

GYIPEAPRD GQ A YVRKD GEW VLL STFL (SEQ ID NO: 87) at the C-terminus of isolated mutant hemagglutinin polypeptide, optionally connected through a linker.

Thus, in certain embodiments, the C-terminal part of the isolated mutant hemagglutinin polypeptide has been replaced by the amino acid sequence GYIPEAPRD GQ A YVRKD GEW VLL STFL (SEQ ID NO: 87), optionally connected through a linker. The linker can contain a cleavage site for processing afterwards according to protocols well known to those skilled in the art. To facilitate purification of the soluble form, a tag sequence may be added, e.g. a histidine tag (HHHHHH (SEQ ID NO: 85) or HHHHHHH (SEQ ID NO: 86)) or FLAG tag (DYKDDDDK)

(SEQ ID NO: 88) or a combination of these, optionally connected via short linkers.

The linker may optionally contain (part of) a proteolytic cleavage site, e.g., IEGR (SEQ ID NO: 89) (Factor X) or LVPRGS (SEQ ID NO: 90) (thrombin) for processing afterwards according to protocols well known to those skilled in the art. The processed proteins are also encompassed in the invention.

The mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides can be prepared according to any technique deemed suitable to one of skill, including techniques described below.

Thus, the immunogenic polypeptides of the invention can be synthesized as DNA sequences by standard methods known in the art and cloned and subsequently expressed, in vitro or in vivo , using suitable restriction enzymes and methods known in the art. The present invention thus also relates to nucleic acid molecules encoding the above described polypeptides. The invention further relates to vectors comprising the nucleic acids encoding the polypeptides of the invention. In certain embodiments, a nucleic acid molecule according to the invention is part of a vector, e.g. a plasmid. Such vectors can easily be manipulated by methods well known to the person skilled in the art and can, for instance, be designed for being capable of replication in prokaryotic and/or eukaryotic cells. In addition, many vectors can directly or in the form of an isolated desired fragment therefrom be used for transformation of eukaryotic cells and will integrate in whole or in part into the genome of such cells, resulting in stable host cells comprising the desired nucleic acid in their genome. The vector used can be any vector that is suitable for cloning DNA and that can be used for transcription of a nucleic acid of interest. When host cells are used, it is preferred that the vector is an integrating vector. Alternatively, the vector can be an episomally replicating vector.

The person skilled in the art is capable of choosing suitable expression vectors and inserting the nucleic acid sequences of the invention in a functional manner. To obtain expression of nucleic acid sequences encoding polypeptides, it is well known to those skilled in the art that sequences capable of driving expression can be functionally linked to the nucleic acid sequences encoding the polypeptide, resulting in recombinant nucleic acid molecules encoding a protein or polypeptide in expressible format. In general, the promoter sequence is placed upstream of the sequences that should be expressed. Many expression vectors are available in the art, e.g. the pcDNA and pEF vector series of Invitrogen, pMSCV and pTK-Hyg from BD Sciences, pCMV-Script from Stratagene, etc, which can be used to obtain suitable promoters and/or transcription terminator sequences, polyA sequences, and the like. Where the sequence encoding the polypeptide of interest is properly inserted with reference to sequences governing the transcription and translation of the encoded polypeptide, the resulting expression cassette is useful to produce the polypeptide of interest, referred to as expression. Sequences driving expression can include promoters, enhancers and the like, and combinations thereof. These should be capable of functioning in the host cell, thereby driving expression of the nucleic acid sequences that are functionally linked to them.

The person skilled in the art is aware that various promoters can be used to obtain expression of a gene in host cells. Promoters can be constitutive or regulated, and can be obtained from various sources, including viruses, prokaryotic, or eukaryotic sources, or artificially designed. Expression of nucleic acids of interest can be from the natural promoter or derivative thereof or from an entirely heterologous promoter (Kaufman, 2000). Some well-known and much used promoters for expression in eukaryotic cells comprise promoters derived from viruses, such as adenovirus, e.g. the El A promoter, promoters derived from cytomegalovirus (CMV), such as the CMV immediate early (IE) promoter (referred to herein as the CMV promoter) (obtainable for instance from pcDNA, Invitrogen), promoters derived from Simian Virus 40 (SV40) (Das et al, 1985), and the like. Suitable promoters can also be derived from eukaryotic cells, such as methallothionein (MT) promoters, elongation factor la (EF-la) promoter (Gill et al., 2001), ubiquitin C or UB6 promoter (Gill et al., 2001), actin promoter, an immunoglobulin promoter, heat shock promoters, and the like. Testing for promoter function and strength of a promoter is a matter of routine for a person skilled in the art, and in general can encompass cloning a test gene such as lacZ, luciferase, GFP, etc. behind the promoter sequence, and test for expression of the test gene. Of course, promoters can be altered by deletion, addition, mutation of sequences therein, and tested for functionality, to find new, attenuated, or improved promoter sequences. According to the present invention, strong promoters that give high transcription levels in the eukaryotic cells of choice are preferred.

The constructs can be transfected into eukaryotic cells (e.g. plant, fungal, yeast or animal cells) or suitable prokaryotic expression systems like E. coli using methods that are well known to persons skilled in the art. In some cases a suitable ‘tag’ sequence (such as for example, but not limited to, a his-, myc-, strep-, or flag-tag) or complete protein (such as for example, but not limited to, maltose binding protein or glutathione S transferase) can be added to the sequences of the invention to allow for purification and/or identification of the polypeptides from the cells or supernatant. Optionally a sequence containing a specific proteolytic site can be included to afterwards remove the tag by proteolytic digestion.

Purified polypeptides can be analyzed by spectroscopic methods known in the art (e.g. circular dichroism spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy and NMR spectroscopy or X-ray crystallography) to investigate the presence of desired structures like helices and beta sheets. ELISA, Octet and FACS and the like can be used to investigate binding of the polypeptides of the invention to the broadly neutralizing antibodies described previously (CR9114, CR8071, CR8033) (Dreyfus et al., Science 337(6100): 1343-8 (2012)). Thus, polypeptides according to the invention having the correct conformation can be selected.

Pharmaceutical/Immunogenic Compositions and Methods of Use

The invention further relates to immunogenic compositions comprising a therapeutically effective amount of at least one of the polypeptides and/or nucleic acids of the invention. The immunogenic compositions preferably further comprise a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier. In the present context, the term “pharmaceutically acceptable” means that the carrier, at the dosages and concentrations employed, will not cause unwanted or harmful effects in the subjects to which they are administered. Such pharmaceutically acceptable carriers and excipients are well known in the art (see Remington's Pharmaceutical Sciences, 18th edition, A. R. Gennaro, Ed., Mack Publishing Company [1990]; Pharmaceutical Formulation Development of Peptides and Proteins, S. Frokjaer and L. Hovgaard, Eds., Taylor & Francis [2000]; and Handbook of Pharmaceutical Excipients, 3rd edition, A. Kibbe, Ed., Pharmaceutical Press [2000]). The term “carrier” refers to a diluent, adjuvant, excipient, or vehicle with which the composition is administered. Saline solutions and aqueous dextrose and glycerol solutions can, e.g., be employed as liquid carriers, particularly for injectable solutions. The exact formulation should suit the mode of administration. The polypeptides and/or nucleic acid molecules preferably are formulated and administered as a sterile solution. Sterile solutions are prepared by sterile filtration or by other methods known in the art. The solutions can then be lyophilized or filled into pharmaceutical dosage containers. The pH of the solution generally is in the range of pH 3.0 to 9.5, e.g. pH 5.0 to 7.5.

The invention also relates to influenza mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides, nucleic acid molecules and/or vectors as described above for use in inducing an immune response against influenza HA protein. The invention also relates to methods for inducing an immune response in a subject, the method comprising administering to a subject, a polypeptide, nucleic acid molecule and/or immunogenic composition as described above. A subject according to the invention preferably is a mammal that is capable of being infected with an infectious disease-causing agent, in particular an influenza virus, or otherwise can benefit from the induction of an immune response, such subject for instance being a rodent, e.g. a mouse, a ferret, or a domestic or farm animal, or a non-human-primate, or a human. Preferably, the subject is a human subject. The invention thus provides methods for inducing an immune response to an influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) in a subject utilizing the polypeptides, nucleic acids and/or immunogenic compositions described herein.

Since it is well known that small proteins and/or nucleic acid molecules do not always efficiently induce a potent immune response, it can be necessary to increase the immunogenicity of the polypeptides and/or nucleic acid molecules by adding an adjuvant. In certain embodiments, the immunogenic compositions described herein comprise, or are administered in combination with, an adjuvant. The adjuvant for administration in combination with a composition described herein can be administered before, concomitantly with, or after administration of said composition. Examples of suitable adjuvants include aluminium salts such as aluminium hydroxide and/or aluminium phosphate; oil-emulsion compositions (or oil-in-water compositions), including squalene-water emulsions, such as MF59 (see e.g. WO 90/14837); saponin formulations, such as for example QS21 and Immunostimulating Complexes (ISCOMS) (see e.g. US 5,057,540; WO 90/03184, WO 96/11711, WO 2004/004762, WO 2005/002620); bacterial or microbial derivatives, examples of which are monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL), 3-O-deacylated MPL (3dMPL), CpG- motif containing oligonucleotides, ADP-ribosylating bacterial toxins or mutants thereof, such as E. coli heat labile enterotoxin LT, cholera toxin CT, pertussis toxin PT, or tetanus toxoid TT, Matrix M (Isconova). In addition, known immunopotentiating technologies may be used, such as fusing the polypeptides of the invention to proteins known in the art to enhance immune response (e.g. tetanus toxoid, CRM197, rCTB, bacterial flagellins or others) or including the polypeptides in virosomes, or combinations thereof. Other non-limiting examples that can be used are e.g. disclosed by Coffman et al. (2010).

In an embodiment, the influenza mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides of the invention are incorporated into viral-like particle (VLP) vectors. VLPs generally comprise a viral polypeptide(s) typically derived from a structural protein(s) of a virus. Preferably, the VLPs are not capable of replicating. In certain embodiments, the VLPs can lack the complete genome of a virus or comprise a portion of the genome of a virus. In some embodiments, the VLPs are not capable of infecting a cell. In some embodiments, the VLPs express on their surface one or more of viral (e.g., virus surface glycoprotein) or non-viral (e.g., antibody or protein) targeting moieties known to one skilled in the art.

In a specific embodiment, the polypeptides of the invention are incorporated into a virosome. A virosome containing a polypeptide according to the invention can be produced using techniques known to those skilled in the art. For example, a virosome can be produced by disrupting a purified virus, extracting the genome, and reassembling particles with the viral proteins (e.g., the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptides described herein) and lipids to form lipid particles containing viral proteins.

The invention also relates to the above-described polypeptides, nucleic acids and/or immunogenic compositions for inducing an immune response in a subject against influenza HA, in particular for use as a vaccine. The influenza mutant hemagglutinin polypeptides, nucleic acids encoding such polypeptides, or vectors comprising such nucleic acids or polypeptides described herein thus can be used to elicit protective antibodies against influenza viruses, for example, against the neck or stem domain of the influenza virus hemagglutinin. The invention in particular relates to polypeptides, nucleic acids, and/or imunogenic compositions as described above for use as a vaccine in the prevention and/or treatment of a disease or condition caused by an influenza virus.

The polypeptides of the invention can be used after synthesis in vitro or in a suitable cellular expression system, including bacterial and eukaryotic cells, or alternatively, can be expressed in vivo in a subject in need thereof, by expressing a nucleic acid coding for the immunogenic polypeptide. Such nucleic acid vaccines may take any form, including naked DNA, plasmids, or viral vectors including adenoviral vectors.

Administration of the polypeptides, nucleic acid molecules, and/or immunogenic compositions according to the invention can be performed using standard routes of administration. Non-limiting examples include parenteral administration, such as intravenous, intradermal, transdermal, intramuscular, subcutaneous, etc, or mucosal administration, e.g. intranasal, oral, and the like. The skilled person will be capable to determine the various possibilities to administer the polypeptides, nucleic acid molecules, and/or immunogenic compositions according to the invention, in order to induce an immune response. In certain embodiments, the polypeptide, nucleic acid molecule, and/or immunogenic composition (or vaccine) is administered more than one time, i.e. in a so-called homologous prime-boost regimen. In certain embodiments where the polypeptide, nucleic acid molecule, and/or immunogenic composition is administered more than once, the administration of the second dose can be performed after a time interval of, for example, one week or more after the administration of the first dose, two weeks or more after the administration of the first dose, three weeks or more after the administration of the first dose, one month or more after the administration of the first dose, six weeks or more after the administration of the first dose, two months or more after the administration of the first dose, 3 months or more after the administration of the first dose, 4 months or more after the administration of the first dose, etc, up to several years after the administration of the first dose of the polypeptide, nucleic acid molecule, and/or immunogenic composition. It is also possible to administer the vaccine more than twice, e.g. three times, four times, etc, so that the first priming administration is followed by more than one boosting administration. In other embodiments, the polypeptide, nucleic acid molecule, and/or immunogenic composition according to the invention is administered only once.

The polypeptides, nucleic acid molecules, and/or immunogenic compositions can also be administered, either as prime, or as boost, in a heterologous prime-boost regimen.

The invention further provides methods for preventing and/or treating an influenza virus disease in a subject utilizing the polypeptides, nucleic acids and/or compositions described herein. In a specific embodiment, a method for preventing and/or treating an influenza virus disease in a subject comprises administering to a subject in need thereof an effective amount of a polypeptide, nucleic acid and/or immunogenic composition, as described above. A therapeutically effective amount refers to an amount of the polypeptide, nucleic acid, and/or composition as defined herein, that is effective for preventing, ameliorating and/or treating a disease or condition resulting from infection by an influenza virus. Prevention encompasses inhibiting or reducing the spread of influenza virus or inhibiting or reducing the onset, development or progression of one or more of the symptoms associated with infection by an influenza virus. Ameloriation as used in herein can refer to the reduction of visible or perceptible disease symptoms, viremia, or any other measurable manifestation of influenza infection.

Those in need of treatment include those already inflicted with a condition resulting from infection with an influenza virus, as well as those in which infection with influenza virus is to be prevented. The polypeptides, nucleic acids and/or compositions of the invention thus can be administered to a naive subject, i.e., a subject that does not have a disease caused by influenza virus infection or has not been and is not currently infected with an influenza virus infection, or to subjects that already are and/or have been infected with an influenza virus.

In an embodiment, prevention and/or treatment can be targeted at patient groups that are susceptible to influenza virus infection. Such patient groups include, but are not limited to e.g., the elderly (e.g. > 50 years old, > 60 years old, and preferably > 65 years old), the young (e.g. < 5 years old, < 1 year old), hospitalized patients and patients who have been treated with an antiviral compound but have shown an inadequate antiviral response. In another embodiment, the polypeptides, nucleic acids and/or immunogenic compositions can be administered to a subject in combination with one or more other active agents, such as existing, or future influenza vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and/or antiviral agents, and/or antibacterial, and/or immunomodulatory agents. The one or more other active agents can be beneficial in the treatment and/or prevention of an influenza virus disease or can ameliorate a symptom or condition associated with an influenza virus disease. In some embodiments, the one or more other active agents are pain relievers, anti-fever medications, or therapies that alleviate or assist with breathing.

Dosage regimens of the polypeptides and/or nucleic acid molecules of the invention can be adjusted to provide the optimum desired response ( e.g ., a therapeutic response). A suitable dosage range may for instance be 0.1-100 mg/kg body weight, preferably 1-50 mg/kg body weight, preferably 0.5-15 mg/kg body weight. The precise dosage of the polypeptides and/or nucleic acid molecules to be employed will e.g. depend on the route of administration, and the seriousness of the infection or disease caused by it and should be decided according to the judgment of the practitioner and each subject's circumstances. For example, effective doses vary depending on target site, physiological state of the patient (including age, body weight, health), and whether treatment is prophylactic or therapeutic. Usually, the patient is a human, but non-human mammals, including transgenic mammals can also be treated. Treatment dosages are optimally titrated to optimize safety and efficacy.

The polypeptides of the invention can also be used to verify binding of monoclonal antibodies identified as potential therapeutic candidates. In addition, the polypeptides of the invention can be used as diagnostic tool, for example to test the immune status of an individual by establishing whether there are antibodies in the serum of such individual capable of binding to the polypeptides of the invention. The invention thus also relates to an in vitro diagnostic method for detecting the presence of an influenza infection in a patient said method comprising the steps of a) contacting a biological sample obtained from said patient with a polypeptide according to the invention; and b) detecting the presence of antibody-antigen complexes.

The polypeptides of the invention can also be used to identify new binding molecules or improve existing binding molecules, such as monoclonal antibodies and antiviral agents.

The invention is further illustrated in the following examples and figures. The examples are not intended to limit the scope of the invention in any way. EMBODIMENTS

The invention provides also the following non-limiting embodiments.

Embodiment 1 is an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprising at least two stabilizing mutations in the polypeptide, wherein the stabilizing mutations comprise substitution mutations at: a. amino acid positions 227 and/or 238; and/or b. amino acid positions 384 and/or 476, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

Embodiment 2 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 1, wherein a. amino acid position 227 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of Q, N, F, I, and Y, and/or amino acid position 238 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of N, Q,

I, and F; and/or b. amino acid position 384 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of W, F, N, Q, and I, and/or amino acid position 476 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of W,

F, Y, I, N, and Q.

Embodiment 3 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 2, wherein a. amino acid position 227 is substituted with a Q and amino acid position 238 is substituted with an I; and/or b. amino acid position 384 is substituted with an I and amino acid position 476 is substituted with an I.

Embodiment 4 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 1 to 3, further comprising one stabilizing mutation in the polypeptide, wherein the stabilizing mutation is a substitution at amino acid position 461, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position in SEQ ID NO:l.

Embodiment 5 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 4, wherein amino acid position 461 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of M, L, W, Y, and R. Embodiment 6 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 5, wherein amino acid position 461 is substituted with an R.

Embodiment 7 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 3, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 19, SEQ ID NO:35, SEQ ID NO:39 or SEQ ID NO:40.

Embodiment 8 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 6, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence of SEQ ID NO: 8.

Embodiment 9 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 1 to 8, further comprising at least one additional glycan motif in a head domain of the polypeptide.

Embodiment 10 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 9, wherein the glycan motif comprises a substitution of an amino (N)- linked glycosylation motif in at least one amino acid position selected from the group consisting of: a. 136 or 137, b. 141, and c. 151, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

Embodiment 11 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 10, wherein the glycan motif comprises the substitution of the N-linked glycosylation motif at amino acid positions 136 and 141, 136 and 151, 137 and 141,

137 and 151, or 141 and 151.

Embodiment 12 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 11, wherein the glycan motif comprises the substitution of the N-linked glycosylation motif at amino acid positions 141 and 151.

Embodiment 13 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 10, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:42, SEQ ID NO:43, SEQ ID NO:44, or SEQ ID NO:45. Embodiment 14 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of claim any one of embodiments 1 to 13, further comprising a receptor binding site mutation in the polypeptide.

Embodiment 15 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 14, wherein the receptor binding site mutation comprises a substitution at an amino acid position selected from the group consisting of: a. 175, b. 219, c. 257, and d. 258, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

Embodiment 16 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 15, wherein a. 175 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, and Y; b. 219 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, Y, R, and E; c. 257 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, F; or d. 258 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, and F.

Embodiment 17 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 16, wherein a. 175 is substituted with a W, b . 219 i s sub stituted with an E, c. 257 is substituted with an E, or d. 258 is substituted with an E.

Embodiment 18 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 17, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:55, or SEQ ID NO:61.

Embodiment 19 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 14-18, wherein the polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at position 136, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

Embodiment 20 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 1-19, further comprising a fusion peptide proximal region (FPPR) deletion mutation.

Embodiment 21 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 20, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion of at least three to seven amino acid residues between amino acid position 369 and 382, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

Embodiment 22 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 21, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion selected from the group consisting of D372-376, D372-378, D373-377, D373-376, D374-379,

D374-376, D376-380, and D377-381.

Embodiment 23 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 22, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion selected from D372-376 or D376-380.

Embodiment 24 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 23, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 62 or SEQ ID NO: 68.

Embodiment 25 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 1-24, wherein the mutant hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:70, SEQ ID NO:81,

SEQ ID NO:82, SEQ ID NO:83, or SEQ ID NO:84.

Embodiment 26 is an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprising a fusion peptide proximal region (FPPR) deletion mutation, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion of at least three to seven amino acid residues between amino acid position 369 and 382, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

Embodiment 27 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 26, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion selected from the group consisting of D372-376, D372-378, D373-377, D373-376, D374-379,

D374-376, D376-380, and D377-381. Embodiment 28 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 26 or 27, wherein the FPPR deletion mutation comprises a deletion selected from D372-376 or D376-380.

Embodiment 29 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 28, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO: 62 or SEQ ID NO: 68.

Embodiment 30 is an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprising a receptor binding site mutation in the polypeptide, wherein the receptor binding site mutation comprises a substitution mutation at an amino acid position selected from the group consisting of: a. 175, b. 219, c. 257, and d. 258, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO:l.

Embodiment 31 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 30, wherein a. 175 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, and Y; b. 219 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of F, W, Y, R, and E; c. 257 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, F; or d. 258 is substituted with an amino acid selected from the group consisting of E, D, V, and F.

Embodiment 32 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 31, wherein a. 175 is substituted with a W, b . 219 i s sub stituted with an E, c. 257 is substituted with an E, or d. 258 is substituted with an E. Embodiment 33 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 32, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises an amino acid sequence selected from SEQ ID NO:50, SEQ ID NO:51, SEQ ID NO:55, or SEQ ID NO:61.

Embodiment 34 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any of embodiments 30-33, wherein the polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at amino acid position 136, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

Embodiment 35 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 1 to 17, 19 to 23, 26 to 28, 30 to 32, or 34, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide comprises a heterologous trimerization domain.

Embodiment 36 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of claims 1 to 34, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises a carboxy (C)-terminal truncation starting at an amino acid position from amino acid 532 to amino acid position 549, wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

Embodiment 37 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 36, whereint he C-terminal truncation starts at amino acid position 532, 534, 536, 539, 541, 543, 545, 547, or 549.

Embodiment 38 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 1-37, wherein the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide further comprises an amino acid substitution at a cleavage site at amino acid position 362, wherein wherein the amino acid position corresponds to the amino acid position of SEQ ID NO: 1.

Embodiment 39 is the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of embodiment 38, wherein amino acid position 362 is substituted with a Q.

Embodiment 40 is an isolated nucleic acid encoding the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 1-39.

Embodiment 41 is a vector comprising the isolated nucleic acid of embodiment 40.

Embodiment 42 is a host cell comprising the vector of embodiment 41. Embodiment 43 is a pharmaceutical composition comprising the isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide of any one of embodiments 1-39 and a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier.

Embodiment 44 is a pharmaceutical composition comprising the isolated nucleic acid of embodiment 40.

Embodiment 45 is a pharmaceutical composition comprising the vector of embodiment 41.

Embodiment 46 is a method of inducing an immune response against an influenza virus in a subject in need thereof, the method comprising administering to the subject in need thereof the pharmaceutical composition of any one of embodiments 43 to 45.

Embodiment 47 is a method of producing an isolated mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide, the method comprising culturing the host cell of embodiment 42 under conditions capable of producing the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide and recovering the mutant influenza hemagglutinin polypeptide from the cell or culture.

Embodiment 48 is a method of producing the pharmaceutical composition of embodiment 43, the method comprising combining the isolated mutant influenza polypeptide with a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier.

EXAMPLES

Table 1. Standard amino acids, abbreviations and properties

Example 1: Stem based polypeptides - structure and design elements.

The structure and location of alterations in the sequence of the polypeptides representing the ectodomain of influenza virus haemagglutinin (HAo) are shown in FIG. 1 A. When expressed as a soluble ectodomain, the polypeptides were carboxy (C)-terminally truncated; e.g. at position 536 of SEQ ID NO: 1, as it is noted that for UFV180846, SEQ ID NO:2, the polypeptide is only 535 amino acids) omitting the native C-terminal transmembrane and cytosolic domain (amino acids 550-585). It is noted that for the numbering of the amino acid positions, the Wild Type HA B/Brisbane/60/08 (SEQ ID NO:l) numbering was used and included the signal peptide (residues 1-15).

To stabilize HA, increase the expression, and ensure correct folding and trimerization similar to the parental wild-type full-length HA, substitutions were introduced in the polypeptides at positions 227, 238, 384, 461, and 476 (FIGS. 1A- 1B).

To improve the HA stem epitope accessibility for broadly binding antibodies, e.g. mAh CR9114 (as described in W02013/007770), the length of the flexible loop comprising the fusion proximal region (FPPR, amino acids 362-382) was reduced by a about 5 amino acids in certain polypeptides.

To obstruct receptor or antibody binding to the solvent exposed surfaces of the HA head domain in certain polypeptides, the conserved receptor binding site (RBS) was substituted (Q257E) and/or one or more amino acids residues were substituted to introduce the amino (N)-linked glycosylation motif (NxS/T, whereas x is not aP, i.e. at positions 136, 141 and 151) or alternatively substituted to a charged residue (i.e. at positions 136 and 257).

The polypeptides can be resistant to trypsin like protease cleavage by substituting the natural monobasic cleavage site amino acid arginine (R) at position 362 (FIG. IB) into, e.g. glutamine (Q). In contrast to native pre-fusion HA, polypeptides of the invention including the R329Q substitution are trypsin like protease resistant and cannot be cleaved anymore. Without cleavage into HAi and HA2 the influenza virus hemagglutinin protein is unable to undergo conformational changes to the post-fusion state and can subsequently not mediate viral fusion.

Example 2: Characterization of stabilizing mutations.

Designs

The soluble polypeptides represented the influenza virus hemagglutinin (HA) of influenza Type B. Multiple residue substitutions with the aim to stabilize and improve the folding of the polypeptides were tested at position 461 (FIG. 2B), at positions 227 and 238 (FIG. 2C), and at positions 384 and 476 (FIG. 2D). Expression and folding of the polypeptides were assessed in Expi293F cell culture supernatant. Protein expression in mammalian cells

DNA fragments encoding the polypeptides were synthesized (Genscript; Piscataway, NJ) and cloned in the pcDNA2004 expression vector (modified pcDNA3 plasmid with an enhanced CMV promotor).

The polypeptides contained a carboxy (C)-terminal foldon trimerization domain (except for UFV171348, SEQ ID NO:39 and UFV171387, SEQ ID NO:40) and a FLAG-Linker-His tag for screening purposes and purification. They were produced in the eukaryotic suspension cell line Expi293F at micro scale (200μL). In short, cells were transiently transfected with industrial grade DNA in 96-halfdeepwell plates (System Duetz) at a cell density of 2.5xl0E+06 vc/mL using the ExpiFectamine 293 transfection kit (Gibco, ThermoFisher Scientific; Waltham, MA) and incubated in Expi293 Expression Medium (Gibco, ThermoFisher Scientific) at 37°C, 250rpm, 8% CO2 and 75% humidity. Cell culture supernatants containing secreted polypeptides were harvested at day 3 and clarified by centrifugation (10 minutes at 400xg) followed by filtration (96-well Filter plates, 0,22pm PVDF membrane, Corning; Coming, NY).

Culture supernatant analysis

Expression and folding of the polypeptides were assessed by amplified luminescent proximity homogeneous assay (AlphaLISA, FIGS. 2B-2D) according to the manufacturer's instructions (PerkinElmer; Waltham, MA). This in-solution and in- binding-equilibrium assay is based on successful binding of both a donor and acceptor bead to the polypeptides via specific antibodies. When in close proximity, laser irradiation of the donor bead at 680nm generated a flow of singlet oxygen, triggering chemical events in a nearby acceptor bead, resulting in chemiluminescent emission at 615nm. Expression levels were measured via the Expression-AlphaLISA setup by simultaneous addition of Nickel donor beads (that binds/complexes with the His tag) and beads coupled to an antibody directed against the FLAG tag to the cell culture supernatant. This Expression-AlphaLISA setup recognized the C-terminal FLAG- Linker-His tag irrespective of the folding of the polypeptides. The correct folding of the polypeptides was assessed in a Binding-AlphaLISA by simultaneous addition of Nickel donor beads, human IgG antibody CR9114 (as described in W02013/007770) at a concentration of 2nM, and anti-human IgG acceptor beads to the cell culture supernatant. A signal was only obtained if the polypeptide correctly folded and permitted the binding of the influenza virus HA specific IgGs.

For all AlphaLISA setups, the detector beads were added at a concentration of 10μg/mL. The culture supernatants were tested at different dilutions to avoid the hook-effect according to the manufacturer's instructions. Readout was performed 2 hours after incubation at room temperature in the dark using the EnSight™ multimode plate reader (PerkinElmer). Data were normalized to reference construct UF VI 70090 (SEQ ID NO:3), wild type HA B/Brisbane/60/08 (SEQ ID NO: 1) including a foldon trimerization domain and a FLAG-Linker-His tag, that was set to 100%.

The thermo-stability of the polypeptides was determined by Differential Scanning Fluorimetry (DSF) by monitoring the fluorescent emission of added Sypro Orange Dye (Therm oFisher Scientific) to the culture supernatant. Upon gradual increase of the temperature, from 25°C to 95°C (60°C per hour), the polypeptides unfolded, and the fluorescent dye bound to the exposed hydrophobic residues leading to a characteristic change in emission. The melting curves were measured using a ViiA7 real time PCR machine (Applied Biosystems; Foster City, CA), and the Tm50 values were calculated by the Spotfire suite (Tibco Software Inc.; Palo Alto, CA). The Tni 5 o values represent the temperature at which 50% of the protein is unfolded and thus are a measure for the temperature stability of the polypeptides.

The content of the expressed polypeptides in the Expi293F cell culture harvests was assessed by analytical Size Exclusion Chromatography (SEC) in an Ultra High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (UHPLC) using a Vanquish system (ThermoFisher Scientific) with a BEH 200A column (Waters, injection volume 40 μL, flow 0.35mL/min.). The elution was monitored by a Helios light scattering detector (Wyatt Technology; Goleta, CA). The SEC profiles were analyzed by the Astra 6 software package (Wyatt Technology).

Results and conclusion

Most of the alternative amino acids at position 461 were well tolerated, except for the Tryptophan (UFV171702, SEQ ID NO:6) that resulted in a decrease of -40% mAh CR9114 binding of (FIG. 2B). Polypeptide UFV171741 (SEQ ID NO:8) that included an arginine residue at position 461 displayed -2.8-fold increase in mAh CR9114 binding. Substitution of the residue at position 227 resulted in an -1.5-fold increase of CR9114 binding for the amino acids tested, whereas substitutions at position 238 did not affect antibody binding (FIG. 2C). A combination of a glutamine and isoleucine at these positions, respectively, resulted in a significant increase of CR9114 binding (-2.5-fold). Introducing substitutions to position 384 resulted in a 3 to 4-fold decrease in CR9114 binding, whereas substitutions at position 476 were well tolerated or resulted in a modest increase in binding levels (UFV170550 (SEQ ID NO:29) and UFV170551 (SEQ ID NO:30)). Polypeptides with both residues substituted displayed a significant decrease in CR9114 binding, except when both residues were substituted to an isoleucine. This combination (UFV170556 (SEQ ID NO:35)) displayed a -2.3-fold increase in CR9114 binding (FIG. 2C). Temperature stability of the polypeptide, as determined by DSF, indicated a 3.9°C increase in Tmso upon introduction of the Q227 and 1238 substitutions (UFV170525 (SEQ ID NO: 19) vs UFV170090 (SEQ ID NO:3), whereas the expression level was not significantly affected (FIG. 2D).

No noteworthy effect of substitutions 1384 and 1476 on the temperature stability was observed (0.5 °C decrease), however, the polypeptide including these mutations (UFV170556 (SEQ ID NO:35)) displayed an increased expression level (-1.4-fold) and increased binding of CR9114 (-2 -fold). Removal of the foldon trimerization domain also resulted in an increase in expression level (UFV171348 (SEQ ID NO: 39)) versus UFV170556 (SEQ ID NO:35)), however, a decrease in CR9114 binding was observed. The combination of all four (4) favorable substitutions at positions 227, 238, 384, and 476 resulted in a polypeptide that expressed well (2- fold increase to reference) and bound CR9114 well (-1.7-fold increase to reference). Strikingly, the polypeptide was very stable (Tmso of 64.7°C, 5.2°C higher than parent construct) and expressed as a soluble trimeric polypeptide in the absence of a foldon trimerization domain (FIG. 2F). Taken together the results showed that by substituting four (4) residues in the core of the HA, a polypeptide was generated that formed soluble turners in the absence of heterologous trimerization domains, which represent a correctly folded and stable pre-fusion conformation of wild type influenza B HA.

Example 3: Characterization of added N-linked glycosylation motifs to the head domain.

Designs

At various positions N-linked glycosylation motifs NxT/S (wherein x is not a P) were introduced to the head domain of the polypeptides. For positions 136, 137, and 151 an N and T were introduced, whereas for position 141 an asparagine was present in the wild type sequence and the motif was completed by introducing a threonine at position 143 (FIG. 3A).

Culture supernatant analysis

DNA fragments encoding the polypeptides of the invention were synthesized as described in Example 2. The polypeptides including a FLAG-Linker-His tag for screening purposes and purification were produced in the eukaryotic suspension cell line Expi293F at micro scale (200μL). UFV171472 (SEQ ID NO:43) was expressed with a Foldon trimerization domain, the other polypeptides were expressed without a Foldon trimerization domain.

Expression and folding of the polypeptides of the invention were assessed by AlphaLISA as described in Example 2. Binding of CR8071 (Dreyfus et ak, Science 337(6100): 1343-8 (2012)) and SD84 (Laursen et ak, Science 362(6414):598-602 (2018)) was performed at a concentration of 1.5nM and 2nM respectively. The trimer- AlphaLISA setup was used to determine the content of trimeric polypeptides present in the culture supernatant. The trimer-AlphaLISA assay relied on human IgGs such as 46B8C (WO2015/148806A1), which specifically bound to monomeric HA. If a 1:1 mix of differently labeled 46B8C (biotin or DIG labeled) was added to HA, an AlphaLISA signal was only be detected if a multimer, permitting binding of at least two antibodies, was present. It was shown previously that this trimer-AlphaLISA setup preferably detected trimers and was insensitive for dimers, multimers or monomers. Trimer-AlphaLISA was performed by simultaneous addition of Streptavidin donor beads and anti-DIG IgG acceptor beads to the culture supernatant in the presence of biotinylated- and DIG-labelled 46B8C IgGs (each at InM). Data for polypeptides UFV171991 (SEQ ID NO:45), UFV171992 (SEQ ID NO:44), and UFV171993 (SEQ ID NO:42) were normalized to reference construct UFV171990 (SEQ ID NO:41), representing a stabilized B /Brisbane/60/08 HA. For polypeptide UFV171472 (SEQ ID NO:43), data was normalized to reference construct UFV170090 (SEQ ID NO:3), wild type HA B /Brisbane/60/08 including a Foldon trimerization domain. Reference constructs were set to 100%.

Results and conclusion

The introduction of additional N-linked glycosylation motifs to the head domain of the polypeptides of the invention at positions 136, 137, 141, or 151 was possible (FIG. 3B) and only a minimal decrease in expression levels were observed (up to -30% for UFV171472 (SEQ ID NO:43)). Binding of stem (CR9114) and neck (CR8071) specific antibodies was maintained, whereas an expected decrease in head domain specific binder SD84 was observed. The highest reduction in SD84 binding was observed for polypeptides with a N-linked glycan introduction at position 137 (UFV171472, SEQ ID NO:43) or at position 151 (UFV171991, SEQ ID NO:45). The head-binding of SD84 was reduced by 40% and 52% respectively relative to the polypeptide without additional N-linked glycosylation sites.

Example 4: Characterization of Receptor Binding Site modifications.

Designs

To reduce the affinity of the conserved receptor binding to its natural ligand sialic acid and to alter the conserved epitope for head-binding antibodies in and around the receptor binding site, point substitutions were introduced to the polypeptides disclosed herein. At position 175, alternative hydrophobic residues were introduced, whereas both hydrophobic and charged residues were evaluated for positions 219, 257, and 258 (FIG. 4A).

Culture supernatant analysis

DNA fragments encoding the polypeptides were synthesized as described in Example 2. The polypeptides including a FLAG-Linker-His tag for screening purposes were produced in the eukaryotic suspension cell line Expi293F at micro scale (200 μL), Expression and folding of the polypeptides were assessed by AlphaLISA as described in Examples 2 and 3. Data was normalized to reference construct UFV171990 (SEQ ID NO:41), representing a stabilized B/Brisbane/60/08 HA including FL AG-Linker-Hi s tag, that was set to 100%. Results and conclusion

Compared to the reference, all polypeptides with altered residues near or in the receptor binding site displayed reduced expression levels (FIG. 4B). Substitutions at positions 219 and 258 are tolerated least; UFV172072 (SEQ ID NO: 54) and UF VI 72064 (SEQ ID NO:46) were the lowest (11%) and highest (56%) expressed polypeptides. Substitutions at positions 175 and 257 were accepted better with regard to protein expression. Polypeptides UFV172073 (SEQ ID NO: 55), UFV172075 (SEQ ID NO:57), and UFV172078 (SEQ ID NO:60) were minimally affected and reach a level of 75%, 70%, and 74% relative to the reference. Similarly, these three polypeptides displayed the highest trimer content; 90%, 89%, and 78% respectively. Furthermore, binding of stem binding monoclonal antibody CR9114 was preserved (71-94%), while binding of head domain specific SD84 was considerably altered; UFV172073 (SEQ ID NO:55) hardly bound (17%), while UFV172075 (SEQ ID NO:57) displayed a drastic increase in binding (579%). For UFV172078, with a substitution at position 175 (SEQ ID NO:60), binding of SD84 was only minimally affected (74%).

Overall, substitutions in and around the receptor binding site were not well tolerated. Polypeptides including the 257E, 257V, or 175W substitution displayed a small but acceptable decrease in expression level, trimer content, and binding of mAh CR9114. The only observed difference with these polypeptides was with binding of SD84.

Example 5: Characterization of Fusion Peptide Proximal Region (FPPR) deletions in the polypeptides of the invention.

Designs

The residues of the structurally undefined loop following the HAo cleavage site at position 362 was referred to as the Fusion Peptide Proximal Region (FPPR, residues 369-383, FIG. 1 A and FIG. 5A). Polypeptides comprising an FPPR deletion of varying length, from 3 to 7 residues, and position were evaluated with the aim to increase the HA stability and accessibility of conserved stem epitopes.

Culture supernatant analysis

DNA fragments encoding the polypeptides were synthesized as described in Example 2. The polypeptides including a FLAG-Linker-His tag for screening purposes were produced in the eukaryotic suspension cell line Expi293F at micro scale (200 μL). Expression and folding of the polypeptides were assessed by AlphaLISA as described in Examples 2 and 3. Data was normalized to reference construct UFV171990 (SEQ ID NO:41), representing a stabilized B/Brisbane/60/08 HA including FL AG-Linker-Hi s tag, that was set to 100%.

Results and conclusion

Partial deletions of the FPPR did not alter the protein expression levels notably (83-110%, FIG. 5B). For two polypeptides, UFV172680 (SEQ ID NO:63) and UFV172683 (SEQ ID NO:65), a ~2-fold decrease in trimer formation was observed, whereas all other polypeptides showed similar trimer content compared to the reference. Larger differences were observed for the binding of stem specific mAh CR9114. With 24% CR9114 binding compared to the reference, UFV172690 (SEQ ID NO: 69) showed the lowest binding, which suggested that deletions beyond position 380 were not well tolerated. UFV172680 (SEQ ID NO:63), UFV172683 (SEQ ID NO:65), and UFV172691 (SEQ ID NO: 68) also displayed reduced CR9114 binding with 55%, 66%, and 74%, respectively, compared to reference. Binding of neck specific mAh CR8071 was only minimally affected, and the relative binding was within the range of 67% to 104% compared to reference. Binding of head domain specific SD84 displayed a larger spread in binding; UFV172683 (SEQ ID NO: 65) showed with a 7 amino acid deletion, the lowest binding (43%), and UFV172686 (SEQ ID NO:66) displayed the highest binding (167%).

Overall, partial deletions of the FPPR were well tolerated; expression level, trimer formation and correct folding were maintained or showed a minimal decrease, even if up to 7 amino acids of this highly conserved loop were removed. Folding of CR9114 was clearly impaired when deletions reach position 381, which was presumably too close to the conserved HA stem epitopes. Polypeptides UFV172680 (SEQ ID NO:63) and UFV172683 (SEQ ID NO:65) showed decreased binding for all assessed antibodies.

Example 6: Alternative truncations at the C-terminus

Designs

Hemagglutinin is a membrane protein that is located at the surface of the viral particles and infected cells with the C-terminal part of the protein embedded in the viral membrane. For the soluble versions of the polypeptides, the transmembrane domain was deleted by a truncation at the start of the transmembrane domain (TM). Additionally, alternative truncation positions were evaluated in the stabilized HA B/Brisbane/60/08 reference polypeptide UFV180284 (SEQ ID NO:70). Whereas the reference polypeptide was expressed without a Foldon trimerization domain and including a C-tag, the variants with alternative C-terminal truncations were expressed as tag-free soluble trimeric polypeptides (Table 2).

Table 2. Alternative C-terminal truncations of the polypeptides derived from the ectodomain of HA from B/Brisbane/60/08. indicates the truncated residues between positions 533 and 552. “TM” stands for trans-membrane domain. Putative N- glycan sites are highlighted at amino acid position 533 and 546.

Culture supernatant analysis

DNA fragments encoding the polypeptides listed in Table 2 were synthesized and expressed in EXPI-293 cell cultures as described in Example 2 and 4. The harvested culture supernatants were analyzed for the presence of expressed trimeric polypeptide by analytical SEC using HPLC as described in Example 2.

Results and conclusion

Analysis of the culture supernatants by SEC indicated one major peak (-6.5- minute retention time) for all tested constructs that corresponded to the trimeric form of the polypeptide (FIG. 6). Minimal effect of the alternative C-terminal truncations on the expression level of the trimeric polypeptides was observed; only a minor decrease in trimer peak height was observed for UFV180461 (SEQ ID NO:78) and UFV180462 (SEQ ID NO:79), -20% in peak height compared to reference UFV180284 (SEQ ID NO:70). Furthermore, a gradual increase in retention time in the size exclusion column was observed, which correlated with the decrease in polypeptide trimer size upon the stepwise truncation of the C-terminus. Likely the change in retention time was enhanced by the removal of two putatively N-linked glycosylated asparagine’s at positions 533 and/or 546.

In summary, C-terminal truncations between residue 533 and 549 of the polypeptides of the invention were well tolerated and only minor effects on expression levels of the trimeric influenza B HAs were observed.

Example 7: Expression, purification and in vitro characterization of trimeric polypeptides of the invention.

Designs

To characterize the combination of additional N-linked glycosylation motifs, receptor binding site (RBS) substitutions, and deletions in the fusion peptide proximal region, they were introduced in stabilized HA B/Brisbane/60/08 in the absence of a Foldon trimerization domain. In polypeptides without the introduced N-linked glycosylation motif at position 136 a glutamate (E) was introduced; UFV180137 (SEQ ID NO: 82), UFV180251 (SEQ ID NO:83), and UF VI 80284 (SEQ ID NO:84). The RBS substitution (257E) was included in all polypeptides. For comparison purpose, WT HA B/Brisbane/60/08 including C-terminal Foldon trimerization domain (UFV170088: SEQ ID NO:80) was used. All polypeptides were produced in ExpiCHO cells including a C-tag, a four-residue acid peptide (E-P-E-A) fused to the C-terminus of the polypeptides Protein expression and purification

DNA fragments encoding the polypeptides were synthesized (Genscript) and cloned in the pcDNA2004 expression vector (modified pcDNA3 plasmid with an enhanced CMV promotor). The polypeptides were produced in ExpiCHO suspension cells cultured in ExpiCHO™ expression medium by transient transfection of respective industrial grade DNA (< 0.01 EU/μg endotoxin level and > 90% supercoil content) using ExpiFectamine™ transfection reagent (Gibco, ThermoFisher Scientific) according to the manufacturer's protocol. ExpiFectamine CHO Enhancer and ExpiCHO Feed (Gibco, ThermoFisher Scientific) were added to the cell cultures 1-day post transfection according to the manufacturer's protocol. Culture supernatants containing the secreted polypeptides were harvested at day 10 and clarified by centrifugation, followed by filtration over a 0.2gm bottle top filter (Corning). The polypeptides were expressed at medium scale (~70mL) and larger scale (~350mL).

The polypeptides were purified by means of a two-step protocol. First, the harvested and clarified culture supernatant (large scale transfection) was loaded on a Hi Scale 16/20 column (GE Healthcare; Chicago, IL) packed with an affinity resin (Capture Select; Therm oFisher Scientific) that consisted of a C-tag specific single domain antibody, immobilized on Agarose based bead (Therm oFisher Scientific).

This resin was highly specific for binding proteins with the C-tag. The amount of applied polypeptide in the harvested culture supernatant was determined by OCTET (anti C-tag) prior to purification. Elution of the C -tagged proteins was performed using a TRIS buffer containing 2M MgCE. Based on the UV signal (A280) the eluted fractions were pooled and filtered through a Millex-GV 0.22pm filter membrane (MilliporeSigma; Burlington, MA). Subsequently, the collected elution peak was applied to a Superdex 200 μg 26/60 column (GE Healthcare) equilibrated in running buffer (20mM Tris, 150mM NaCl, pH7.8) for polishing purpose, i.e., to remove the minimal amount of multimeric and monomeric protein. Based on the UV signal (A280) the trimer fractions were pooled.

Culture supernatant and purified protein analysis

The level of expressed polypeptide in the cell culture supernatant was assessed by Bio-Layer Interferometry using the OCTET platform according to the manufacturer's instructions (ForteBio; Fremont, CA). First a standard curve was established, using Streptavidin biosensors (ForteBio), loaded with CaptureSelect™ Biotin anti C-tag conjugate (ThermoFisher Scientific), by assessing the binding shift of a dilution series of a well-defined reference batch of purified homologous polypeptide (stabilized HA B/Brisbane/60/08 including C -terminal C-tag;

UFV172551 SEQ ID NO:96). Subsequently, the binding shift of pre-diluted (in kinetics buffer, ForteBio) cell culture supernatants containing the polypeptides was measured and the concentration of the polypeptides was calculated using the established standard curve

The trimer content of the polypeptides in the culture supernatant and of purified polypeptide was assessed by Size Exclusion Chromatography Multi Angle Light Scattering (SEC-MALS) analysis using a High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) Infinity 1260 series setup (Agilent; Santa Clara, CA). Of each purified polypeptide 40μg was run (lmL/min.) over a TSK gel G3000SWxl column (Sigma-Aldrich; St. Louis, MO) and the molar mass of the eluted material was measured by a miniDAWN Treos Multi Angle Light Scattering detector and Optilab T-rEx differential refractometer (Wyatt Technology). The data were analyzed by the Astra 6 software package (Wyatt Technology) and molecular weight calculations were derived from the refractive index signal.

The antigenicity of purified polypeptides was assessed by ELISA (ECso values of the antibody binding). To this end, polypeptides were coated at a concentration of lOnM and incubated with a dilution series of monoclonal antibody (mAh) CR9114 (as described in W02013/007770), CR8071 (as described in Dreyfus et al.,

337(6100): 1343-8 (2012)), SD84 (as described in (Laursen et al., Science 362(6414) : 598-602 (2018)), and 34B5 (as described in WO2015/148806). A starting concentration of 70nM was applied for CR9114, CR8071, and 34B5, whereas a starting concentration of 100nM was used for SD84. Antibody binding was determined by incubation with a secondary antibody, anti-human Fc HRP (Mouse anti-Human IgG, Jackson ImmunoResearch; West Grove, PA) and visualized by addition of POD substrate. Read out was performed using the EnSight™ multimode plate reader (PerkinElmer; Waltham, MA). The ECso values were calculated using the Spotfire suite (Tibco Software Inc.; Palo Alto, CA).

The thermo-stability of the polypeptides was determined in the culture supernatant by Differential Scanning Fluorimetry (DSF) as described in Example 2 by monitoring the fluorescent emission of Sypro Orange Dye (Therm oFisher Scientific) added to a 6μg polypeptide solution.

Results and conclusion

The analysis of crude cell culture supernatant by SEC-MALS (FIG. 7 A, left panel) indicated the presence of predominantly soluble trimeric polypeptides (~7 minutes retention time). Similar analysis also indicated that the two-step purification protocol yielded pure trimeric polypeptide (FIG. 7 A, right panel). Furthermore, the trimeric polypeptides expressed at a high level as determined by OCTET; up to a 2- fold increase was observed compared to the reference (FIG. 7B). The purified polypeptides were correctly folded as evident by ELISA analysis showing strong CR9114 binding to the stem of the polypeptide (with ECso values in the lower nanomolar range (<2.6nM)). Similarly, ECso values were observed for binding of neck specific mAh CR8071. In contrast, no binding was observed for the head- domain specific binder SD84. Likely the introduced N-linked glycosylation motifs were glycosylated and prevented SD84 from binding due to steric hindrance by the glycan moieties. The temperature at which 50% of the polypeptide unfolds was determined by DSF. All polypeptides were temperature stable and displayed Tmso values of 68.3°C, 69.2°C, 69.4°C, and 69.3°C for, respectively, UFV180131 (SEQ ID NO:81), UFV180137 (SEQ ID NO: 82), UFV180251 (SEQ ID NO:83), and UF VI 80284 (SEQ ID NO:84). The Tmso value for the reference, wild type HA including a Foldon trimerization domain, was ~8.6°C lower, which indicated the combination of substitutions and deletions had a significant effect on the temperature stability of the polypeptide. Using an alternative C -terminal truncation position and knocking out the HAo cleavage site resulted in a decrease in protein expression level; however, each polypeptide expressed well at a high level that is comparable to the reference (FIG. 7C). Polypeptide folding was not affected and ECso values in the lower nanomolar range wre observed (<4.6 nM) for stem specific mAb CR9114 and neck specific mAb CR8071 binding. Similar to what was observed for SD84, no binding of head-domain specific mAb 172498 (WO2015/148806) was observed. Likely, the introduced N-linked glycosylation motifs were glycosylated and prevented binding of mAb 172498 due to steric hindrance by the glycan moieties. All polypeptides displayed similar Tmso values compared to the polypeptides with a non- mutated cleavage site and other truncation positions.

In summary, the combination of stabilizing substitutions and fusion peptide proximal region deletion was beneficial and allowed the addition of non-native head domain glycans and receptor binding site substitutions. The polypeptides expressed well, were purified from the cell culture supernatant as properly folded trimeric polypeptides, were temperature stable, and maintained the proper HA folding and trimeric pre-fusion conformation in solution.

Example 8: Expression of soluble stabilized Influenza B HA compared to wild type Influenza B HA in various subtypes

Designs

In addition to the HA polypeptides described in Example 2-7, further stabilized Influenza B HAs were expressed and compared to their respective wild type soluble HA ectodomains. Thus, a glutamine (Q) at position 227, isoleucine (I) at position 238, isoleucine (I) at position 384, arginine (R) at position 461, and an isoleucine (I) at position 476 were introduced in the HA amino acid sequences of four additional Influenza B strains: B/Lee/1940, B/Yamagata/16/1988 (Yamagata lineage), B/Florida/04/2006 (Yamagata lineage), and B/Iowa/06/2017 (Victoria lineage). All polypeptide included the fusion peptide proximal region (FPPR) deletion mutation 372-376 except for the B/Iowa/06/2017 derived polypeptide. Expression levels of the polypeptides in Expi293F cell culture supernatant, three days after transfection, were compared to the respective WT polypeptides without the mutations.

Culture supernatant analysis

DNA fragments encoding the polypeptides of the invention were synthesized as described in Example 2. The wild type polypeptides including a His- tag and the stabilized polypeptides including a linker-sortase recognition sequence- His tag for screening purposes and purification, were produced in the eukaryotic suspension cell line Expi293F at micro scale (200 μL).

The level of expressed polypeptide in the cell culture supernatant was assessed by Bio-Layer Interferometry using the OCTET platform (ForteBio). In short, a standard curve was established using anti-HIS (HIS2) Biosensors (ForteBio) by measuring the binding shift of a dilution series of a well-defined reference batch of a purified comparable polypeptide. Subsequently, the binding shifts of pre-diluted (in kinetics buffer, ForteBio) cell culture supernatants containing the polypeptides of the invention were measured and the concentration of the polypeptides was calculated using the established standard curve.

The presence of the expressed polypeptides and its quaternary structure (which indicates whether the polypeptide is a monomer, trimer or multimer) in the culture supernatant was assessed by Size Exclusion Chromatography Multi Angle Light Scattering (MALS) in an Ultra High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (UHPLC) setup using a Vanquish system (ThermoFisher Scientific). For the B/Lee/40, B/Yamagata/16/1988, and B/Florida/04/2006 derived polypeptides a BEH 200A column (Water, injection volume 40μL, flow 0.35mL/min) was used, for the B/Iowa/06/2017 derived polypeptide a Unix-C 300A column (Sepax Technologies, injection volume 15μL,, flow O.lmL/min) was used. The elution was monitored by a Helios light scattering detector (Wyatt Technologies). The SEC profiles were analyzed by the Astra 6 software package (Wyatt Technology). Result and conclusion

Like observed in Example 2, substitution to glutamine at position 227, and isoleucine’s at positions 238, 384 and 476, an arginine at position 461 with or without the deletion of the FPPR (residues 372-376) in the wild type HA of different strains resulted in an increase in expression as determined by Bio-Layer Interferometry (FIG. 8A). The analysis of the crude cell culture supernatant by SEC- MALS (FIG. 8B) showed that upon introduction of the stabilizing mutations, for all soluble stabilized HAs a distinct turner (T) peak appears at a retention time ~6.5 minutes which is higher than the turner peaks observed for the respective wild type HA ectodomains (FIG. 8.B). Furthermore, none of the stabilized HA displayed a monomer (M) peak as appears at a retention time between 6.5 and 7 minutes for the wild type B/Iowa/06/2017 HA.

In summary, the data confirm that introduction of mutations 227Q, 2381, 3841, 461R, and 4761 result in an increased expression and formation of stable soluble tumeric HA polypeptides.

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W02010/130636 WO20 13/007770 WO2015/148806

SEQUENCES

SEQ ID NO 85: HIS-Tag

HHHHHH

SEQ ID NO 86: HIS-Tag

HHHHHHH

SEQ ID NO 87: Trimerization Domain

GYIPEAPRDGQAYVRKDGEWVLLSTFL

SEQ ID NO 88: FLAG Tag

DYKDDDDK

SEQ ID NO 89: Factor X Proteolytic Cleavage Site

IEGR

SEQ ID NO 90: Thrombin Proteolytic Cleavage Site

LVPRGS