article

Developing Vaccines and Therapies for the Highly Pathogenic Nipah and Hendra Viruses

Gary Pettit
United States

The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF), along with Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU)Profectus Biosciences, Inc., the Vanderbilt University Medical CenterMapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc., and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) have been awarded up to $24.5 million to advance treatments for two lethal henipaviruses. The award was made to Dr. Christopher Broder, professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology at USU. The award is a collaborative Center of Excellence for Translational Research (CETR) grant supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

The grant funds will be distributed over five years to further the development of countermeasures used for the prevention and treatment of Nipah and Hendra infections in humans. Recently, Nipah was selected by the World Health Organization as an epidemic threat needing urgent research and development action. The deadly virus was included in the WHO R&D Blueprint list of priority pathogens with epidemic potential and are considered agents with the highest risk of being deliberately misused by bioterrorists to cause mass casualties and produce devastating effects to the economy, critical infrastructure and public confidence. 

“This collaboration of public and private partners is an important step towards developing a successful treatment or prevention to a virus the WHO has recognized as an epidemic threat needing urgent action,” said HJF CEO Dr. Joseph Caravalho, Jr. “HJF is proud to partner with such laudable institutions and individuals to work towards a treatment for the threat posed by the Nipah and Hendra viruses.”  

A major focus of the CETR will be on preclinical products that have shown an ability to provide complete pre- and post-exposure protection of animals against Nipah and Hendra infection. There are currently no vaccines or treatments approved for human use against Nipah and Hendra, and infection causes high mortality rates in people that range between 50 and 100 percent. 

Transitioning the effective subunit vaccine into a form that can be stored long-term and rapidly deployed to outbreak areas will be a tremendous advancement to preventing widespread human infections. Profectus is working on the initial development of the human subunit vaccine under a grant from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and a license from HJF under the USU-HJF Joint Office of Technology Transfer. 

“We are all very excited about this new grant as it combines the two most promising treatments against infection by Nipah and Hendra; one is a vaccine to offer protection from infection and the other approach provides a post-exposure treatment. Each of these measures has shown the ability to completely protect animals from either infection or lethal disease by these deadly viruses,” said Broder. “We are extremely appreciative of the support we have received from NIAID/NIH and look forward to working with them and with our corporate partners to further develop these most promising interventions for human use.” 

Broder will work with his long-time collaborator Dr. Thomas Geisbert, professor at UTMB, to evaluate the effectiveness of the countermeasures to be developed, and they will collaborate with John H. Eldridge of Profectus Biosciences, James E. Crowe Jr. of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and with Larry Zetlin, of Mapp Biopharmaceuticals.   

“Our group, in collaboration with Broder’s team were the first to report on the promise of both a preventive vaccine and a therapeutic treatment for both Nipah and Hendra infection with a clear potential for transition to real human-use application,” said Geisbert.  “It’s not often that research quickly leads to the development of medical countermeasures for people, and such progress typically comes from close collaborations between research groups.” 

The grant awarded to Dr. Broder is NIH Award No. U19 AI142764 

About HJF: The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF) is a global nonprofit organization with the mission to advance military medicine. HJF’s scientific, administrative and program operations services empower investigators, clinicians, and medical researchers around the world to make medical discoveries in all areas of medicine. With more than 35 years of experience, HJF serves as a trusted and responsive link between the military medical community, federal and private partners, and the millions of warfighters, veterans, and civilians who benefit from military medicine. For more information, visit hjf.org. 

About USU: The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), founded by an act of Congress in 1972, is the academic heart of the Military Health System. USU students are primarily active-duty uniformed officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Public Health Service who receive specialized education in tropical and infectious diseases, TBI and PTSD, disaster response and humanitarian assistance, global health, acute trauma care, and advanced practice nursing and dentistry. For more information, visit www.usuhs.edu

About Profectus Biosciences, Inc.: Profectus BioSciences, Inc. is a clinical-stage vaccine platform company developing novel vaccines for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases and associated cancers. Profectus' vaccines are based on the company’s proprietary vaccine delivery platforms to provide protection against emerging infectious diseases of public health and biodefense importance such as Ebola, Marburg, Chikungunya, Zika, the equine encephalitis viruses, and respiratory syncytial virus; and therapeutically targeting virally infected cells and cancers associated with hepatitis B virus (HBV), human papilloma virus (HPV), herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). For more information, please visit www.profectusbiosciences.com

About Vanderbilt University: Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers and is the largest comprehensive health system in Tennessee. Its core missions are the delivery of patient care, performing biomedical research and training future leaders in health care. VUMC is the recipient of top accolades by the National Academies, the Magnet Recognition Program, the Leapfrog Group, and has been named a Top Hospital by Truven Health Analytics 14 times. In 2018, U.S. News & World Report named VUMC to the ‘Honor Roll’ of the nation’s top 20 hospitals with 10 nationally-ranked adult specialty programs. In 2018, U.S. Newsalso named the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt among the nation’s ‘Best Children’s Hospitals’ with 10 out of 10 pediatric specialty programs nationally ranked. For more information and the latest news follow Vanderbilt Health on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and in the VUMC Reporter.  

About UTMB Health: Texas' first academic health center opened its doors in 1891 and today comprises four health sciences schools, three institutes for advanced study, a research enterprise that includes one of only two national laboratories dedicated to the safe study of infectious threats to human health, and a health system offering a full range of primary and specialized medical services throughout Galveston County and the Texas Gulf Coast region. UTMB Health is a component of the University of Texas System and a member of the Texas Medical Center. 

About Mapp Biopharmaceuticals Inc.: Mapp Biopharmaceutical is an American pharmaceutical company based in San Diego, California engaged in novel pharmaceutical development for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, focusing on unmet needs in global health and biodefense.  Mapp Bio, is responsible for the research and development of ZMapp, a drug which is still under development, comprising three humanized monoclonal antibodies as a treatment for Ebola virus disease.