Anna Kovacevich is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.
Research Roundup: Nasal vaccines for COVID-19, existing treatments against monkeypox, and a potential Lassa fever drug
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
Following the remarkable success of the first COVID-19 vaccines, developed at unprecedented speeds, investment in next-generation shots has so far fallen short, according to some experts. Nasal vaccines, in particular, experts say could prove more effective at preventing COVID-19 infections than intramuscular shots, as they concentrate immune protection in the upper airway and induce mucosal immune responses where the virus typically enters the body. Several nasal vaccine candidates are in development in the United States—though primarily remain in preclinical or early-stage clinical trials—as well as globally, including phase 3 trials in India and China. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for example, is funding early research on a protein-based nasal spray as well as an mRNA vaccine delivered into the nose using nanoparticles, though any successful nasal vaccine is likely years away from becoming available.
As monkeypox cases continue to rise globally, experts and leaders are looking at health technologies with potential to combat the virus—including repurposed smallpox vaccines that have begun to be deployed, predominantly in high-income countries. In addition to vaccines, scientists are evaluating existing drugs that could serve as treatments against monkeypox, for which there are no specific treatments licensed. A recent study in JAMA analyzed several preexisting drugs, including antivirals brincidofovir and tecovirimat, both of which have been tested among monkeypox patients in the past with varying success. The ongoing uncertainty surrounding treatments for the new outbreak highlights the lack of evidence-based therapeutics for monkeypox, according to the journal article, as well as the inequities in the global response as countermeasures have been stockpiled by high-income countries but remain limited in monkeypox-endemic countries.
In a new study, researchers describe how a Lassa virus protein drives infection by harnessing a cellular protein in human hosts, as well as identify how future therapies could target this interaction to treat patients. The research suggests that disrupting the link between Lassa polymerase—a protein encoded by the virus—and a specific host protein it interacts with—GSPT1—could stop Lassa virus infection. In pursuit of this, the research team identified an existing drug candidate, CC-90009, that has been shown to destroy GSPT1 proteins and is currently being examined in clinical trials as a cancer therapy. In early experiments, CC-90009 significantly reduced Lassa virus growth without obvious cell toxicity, and researchers plan to continue evaluation in animal models. There is currently no antiviral drug that specifically targets Lassa virus.