Oxford scientists launch first human vaccine trials for deadly Nipah virus

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Field lab assistants catch a bat in their net as they collect specimens for their Nipah virus research in the Shuvarampur area of Faridpur, Bangladesh, September 14, 2021.

Field lab assistants catch a bat in their net as they collect specimens for their Nipah virus research in the Shuvarampur area of Faridpur, Bangladesh, September 14, 2021.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Scientists at the University of Oxford in the U.K. have launched first-in-human vaccine trials for the deadly Nipah virus which impacts many Asian countries, including India.

The trials of the ChAdOx1 NipahB vaccine, consisting of 51 people aged 18 to 55, will be led by the Oxford Vaccine Group.

Nipah virus is a devastating disease that can be fatal in around 75% of cases, the researchers said. Outbreaks have occurred in countries in Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India, with a recent one in Kerala in September last year, they said.

Nipah virus is carried by fruit bats and may also be transmitted by contact with infected animals (such as pigs) or from person-to-person via close contact, the according to the researchers.

The virus, which is recognised by the World Health Organization as a priority disease requiring urgent research, belongs to the same family of paramyxoviruses as more well-known pathogens like measles, they said.

Despite the first outbreaks of Nipah virus occurring 25 years ago in Malaysia and Singapore, there are currently no approved vaccines or treatments.

“Nipah virus was first identified in 1998, and yet 25 years on the global health community still has no approved vaccines or treatments for this devastating disease,” said the trial’s Principal Investigator, Brian Angus, from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine.

“Due to the high mortality rate and the nature of Nipah virus transmission, the disease is identified as a priority pandemic pathogen. This vaccine trial is an important milestone in identifying a solution that could prevent local outbreaks occurring, while also helping the world prepare for a future global pandemic,” Mr. Angus said.

In-Kyu Yoon, acting executive director of vaccine research & development at CEPI, funders of the trial, said Nipah has epidemic potential, with its fruit bat hosts found in areas home to over two billion people.

“This trial is a step forward in efforts to build a suite of tools to protect against this killer virus. Knowledge gained could also inform development of other Paramyxovirus countermeasures,” Mr. Yoon said.

The vaccine uses the ChAdOx1 platform, the same viral vector vaccine platform that was used for the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the researchers said.

The project will run over the next 18 months, with further trials expected to follow in a Nipah-affected country, they added.



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