Developers hope vaccine will alleviate suffering caused by mosquito borne virus in Asia and Africa and limit its spread.
Researchers create new experimental vaccine against chikungunya virus - NIH awards $3 million to prepare for clinical trials; developers hope vaccine will alleviate suffering caused by mosquito-borne virus in Asia and Africa and limit its spread.
Researchers have developed a new candidate vaccine to protect against chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne pathogen that produces an intensely painful and often chronic arthritic disease that has stricken millions of people in India, Southeast Asia and Africa.
A single dose of the experimental vaccine protected lab mice from infection with the virus, according to a paper published online in the journal PLoS Pathogens by researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Inviragen, Inc., of Ft. Collins, Colorado, the University of Wisconsin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Alabama.
"Currently, we have no approved treatment or vaccine for chikungunya, and there's a real need for an effective vaccine to protect against this debilitating and economically devastating infection," said Scott Weaver, director of UTMB's Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, scientific director of the Galveston National Laboratory and senior author of the paper. "Everything we've seen so far suggests this vaccine candidate could fill that need."
The experimental vaccine is a "recombinant live-attenuated vaccine" created by genetically modifying the chikungunya virus using techniques developed with the initial support from the Western Regional Center of Excellence in Bio-defense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, headquartered at UTMB. The resulting vaccine strain differs from wild-type chikungunya virus in two ways: it doesn't cause disease, and it's incapable of infecting mosquitoes; the latter trait is an important safety feature to ensure that the vaccine strain cannot initiate transmission in non-endemic locations where travelers might be immunized before a trip to Africa or Asia. But it still provokes an immune response to protect against future chikungunya infections.
Such a live virus vaccine would also be relatively economical to produce in large quantities - an important factor given the limited resources available in the areas hit hardest by chikungunya.
"We need to slow this virus down in India and Southeast Asia, not just to protect the people there but to reduce the very real risk that it might become endemic here after an infected traveler arrives," Weaver said. "The best way to do that is with a vaccine, and if you're going to make a vaccine you have to look at where it's going to be used and what they can afford."
UTMB has signed a license agreement with Inviragen for commercialization of the new vaccine candidate. In addition, the two partners have been chosen to receive a four-year, $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to complete the preclinical development work needed submit an investigational new drug application to the Food and Drug Administration, opening the door to human trials.
ABOUT UTMB HEALTH: Established in 1891, Texas' academic health center 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.
Editor: Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is an insect-borne virus, of the genus Alpha-virus, that is transmitted to humans by virus-carrying Aedes mosquitoes. There have been recent breakouts of CHIKV associated with severe illness. CHIKV causes an illness with symptoms similar to dengue fever. CHIKV manifests itself with an acute febrile phase of the illness lasting only two to five days, followed by a prolonged arthralgic disease that affects the joints of the extremities. The pain associated with CHIKV infection of the joints persists for weeks or months, or in some cases years.