August 05, 2019

Research Roundup: A 'Google' for biomedical data, alarming surge in drug-resistant HIV, and CEPI partners with Valneva to develop Chikungunya vaccine

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Gabe Bienczycki

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is hoping that an ambitious effort to create a “Google” for biomedical research could help researchers connect the dots between health data sets to unlock new scientific insights and discoveries. Launched by NIH in 2016, the Biomedical Data Translator program is attempting to create a tool that would integrate different data sources, ranging from electronic health records to clinical trial results, and apply machine learning techniques to reason through the information allowing researchers to make connections between not previously associated datasets and identify trends across them. So far, the program has awarded approximately US$17.5 million to 19 institutions across the country working to integrate and organize years of data. The initial feasibility phase of the project is set to end this year.

Surveys conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 18 countries from 2014 to 2018 reveal an alarming surge in resistance to critical HIV drugs. In the past four years, 12 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas have surpassed the acceptable levels of drug resistance against two key HIV drugs, efavirenz and nevirapine—showing more than ten percent of adults with HIV have developed resistance to these drugs in these nations. Though the causes of drug resistance are unclear, the co-author of a WHO report on the survey’s findings suggests drug-resistant HIV may develop when people interrupt treatment. In response to this evidence, WHO recommends that countries use dolutegravir as first-line treatment against HIV since the likelihood the virus will develop resistance is lower with dolutegravir than with other antiretrovirals.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will provide biotech company, Valneva, with up to $23.4 million to fund the development of a single-dose, live-attenuated vaccine for Chikungunya—a mosquito-borne disease which causes fever, severe joint pain, muscle pain, and fatigue. The funding from CEPI will support vaccine manufacturing and late stage clinical development to help accelerate regulatory approval of the vaccine for use in regions where outbreaks occur. Valneva plans to maintain a stockpile of the vaccine and transfer its manufacturing to Chikungunya-endemic regions. Since Chikungunya re-emerged in 2004, approximately 3.4 million cases in 43 countries have been identified.