BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

September 17, 2018

Research Roundup: Neutralizing Ebola, a prototype to fight the next pandemic, and Zika vaccine trial moves forward

Ansley Kahn
Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Eric Becker

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Two new studies at Scripps Research have shown how human and mice antibodies can bind to and stop the infection of all five types of Ebolavirus—a key step in developing therapeutics capable of neutralizing all variants of the virus. During the studies, scientists observed the ability of a human antibody called ADI-15878 to bind directly to the viral “fusion loop,” which the virus uses to fuse with human cells to initiate infection, making it impossible for the virus to enter into human cells. Discovered in a human Ebola survivor, ADI-15878 is the only known antibody ever found to neutralize all five strains of the Ebola virus.

A new study shows the potential of a novel microneedle platform to be used to administer vaccines during a pandemic. Researchers created a unique prototype vaccine that combined different technologies including: tiny microneedles that penetrate only the upper of the skin, a version of the H5N1 vaccine made from noninfectious “virus-like” particles that can be rapidly produced in tobacco plants, and an ingredient called an adjuvant that speeds up and strengthens the body’s response to the vaccine and has demonstrated protection against related viruses. While the study showed the product was effective in ferrets and appeared safe in humans, large-scale human trials are still needed. As vaccine researchers search for new approaches to combat pandemics, this prototype could lead to vaccine patches that could be distributed rapidly and administered without a nurse.

Scientists plan to test the efficacy of a Zika vaccine candidate by intentionally infecting people with the virus, a strategy known as a human challenge trial. Researchers first launched the vaccine trial in March 2017 following an outbreak of the virus in the Americas in 2016 and had planned to open new trial sites in infection hot spots, but the effort is currently in limbo given the significant drop off in Zika cases. A major concern of researchers is that those participating in the trial may never be exposed to the virus, making it impossible to determine if the vaccine works. Plans to conduct a human challenge trial for this Zika vaccine candidate were halted by an ethics committee in 2017, which worried that people intentionally infected with the virus might transmit it to their sexual partners. Now, this method is being considered again as cases drop and industry loses interest in bringing a vaccine to market.

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