May 2, 2016

Research Roundup: Yellow fever vaccine availability, protective antibodies against HIV, and the impact of past dengue infection on Zika fever

Kat Kelley
Senior Program Assistant
Health worker using a needle remover to remove needles from used syringes. (Photo: PATH/Doune Porter)

There is a safe, affordable, single-dose vaccine that protects against yellow fever for 99 percent of those vaccinated, yet a recent outbreak of the disease has resulted in nearly 2,000 cases and killed 258 in Angola. Yellow fever is endemic in 44 countries, including Angola, and the global demand for the vaccine surpasses availability by 42 percent. Additionally, the cost of the vaccine has increased 30 percent annually. The vaccine is currently produced by four manufacturers, and its production is complicated, requiring embryos in chicken eggs. A vaccine with an inactivated version of the virus, which would be much easier to manufacture, has successfully completed phase 1 clinical trials, however, it has not yet been commercialized. As the World Health Organization is leading negotiations to divert yellow fever vaccines from routine immunization programs to Angola, the existing vaccine could also be delivered in smaller quantities to more people: just one-fifth of the standard dose has proven to be effective against the virus.

A team of American and German scientists have demonstrated that an injection with potent anti-HIV antibodies can protect against the virus in monkeys for nearly six months. The researchers used four different antibodies that have proven to be effective against various HIV strains and administered one type each to four different groups of monkeys. The monkeys were then exposed to the virus on a weekly basis. On average, the monkeys were protected for 12 to 14 weeks, although some were protected for up to 23 weeks. Previous studies have shown that antibodies can provide short-term protection against HIV in monkeys, however, in most studies, the monkeys were exposed to the virus in one high-dose shot. In reality, most infections in humans develop gradually as a result of repeated, low-dose exposures, and thus, this study sought to emulate standard human transmission. Currently, the first-ever clinical trial of a single antibody is being tested in individuals at high-risk for HIV infection, however, it’s expected that a cocktail of these potent antibodies would be even more effective at preventing infection. 

New research out of Florida Gulf Coast University indicates that previous infection with dengue virus could exacerbate symptoms from the Zika virus. This phenomenon—antibody-dependent enhancement, in which the presence of protective antibodies against one disease increases vulnerability to another—has been reported among different strains of dengue virus. The team at Florida Gulf Coast University confirmed that in cell cultures, the presence of antibodies against dengue intensified Zika infection, however the research also suggests that a single vaccine candidate could be effective against both diseases. These findings, coupled with the shared Aedes aegypti mosquito vector, indicate that the spread of Zika in dengue-endemic regions could be more virulent than expected.