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VUMC joins effort to stop spread of two deadly viruses

Mar. 25, 2019, 2:22 PM

 

by Bill Snyder

Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) are participating in a national effort to develop vaccines and other treatments as countermeasures to prevent the spread of two emerging and deadly viruses — Nipah and Hendra.

A five-year grant of up to $24.5 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, was announced this week. Christopher Broder, PhD, at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, is heading the effort.

James Crowe Jr., MD, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center at VUMC, said his group’s role is to identify, develop and characterize anti-Nipah/Hendra human monoclonal antibodies directly from naturally infected human survivors.

These antibodies “will be used to understand and define the basic mechanisms by which naturally occurring antibodies kill Nipah and Hendra viruses,” Crowe said in a news release.

Broder and Thomas Geisbert, PhD, at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and his colleagues previously described a prototype anti-Nipah/Hendra monoclonal antibody that has been successfully used on an emergency basis in more than a dozen individuals.

Crowe and his team will build on these preliminary results with a synthetic antibody to isolate fully human antibodies directly from the circulating white blood cells of the immune subjects, to identify optimal therapeutic antibodies.

Other partners in the NIAID grant include John Eldridge, PhD, chief scientific officer-vaccines at Profectus Biosciences, a clinical-stage vaccine development company based in Baltimore, Maryland, and Larry Zeitlin, PhD, president of Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., a San Diego-based firm that will prepare the new antibodies for human safety testing.

Hendra was identified in 1994 during an outbreak of respiratory and neurologic disease in horses and humans in Australia. Although Hendra infection in humans is rare, the risk of death approaches 60 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nipah, identified in 1999 during an outbreak of encephalitis and respiratory illness among pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore, is an epidemic threat that kills up to 40 percent of its victims.

Last year the virus was placed on the World Health Organization’s list of “priority diseases” for urgent research and development because of its high public health risk and potential to be used as a bioterrorism agent.

The NIAID grant (AI142764) is part of the institute’s collaborative Center of Excellence for Translational Research (CETR) program established in 2014 to advance development of medical countermeasures, including vaccines and immunotherapeutics, against emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

Crowe and his team currently are participating in another CETR grant led by Geisbert to advance the treatments of deadly hemorrhagic fever viral infections caused by Ebola and Marburg viruses.

He also is principal investigator of a cooperative agreement between VUMC and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced last year to develop methods for preventing the global spread of viruses like chikungunya and Zika. The five-year agreement is worth up to $28 million.

Crowe is the Ann Scott Carell Professor in departments of Pediatrics and of Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

He and his colleagues have isolated human monoclonal antibodies for many pathogenic viruses and pioneered the rational design of neutralizing antibody treatments and vaccines, some of which have progressed to clinical trials.

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