Profectus, Emergent BioSolutions and PATH join forces in search for a Nipah vaccine

Outbreak-focused Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has already shelled out three times to support research on MERS and Lassa fever vaccines. That made Nipah the fund's only priority disease without a project—until now.

The global alliance plans to grant up to $25 million over the next five years to Profectus BioSciences and Emergent BioSolutions, which are working on a candidate to protect against the bat-borne disease.

Profectus will be responsible for designing a clinical assay to evaluate the candidate, and Emergent will take care of manufacturing, with an exclusive option to buy the vaccine from Profectus down the road. Under a separate agreement with CEPI, global health organization PATH will contribute its clinical development capabilities.

The experimental recombinant vaccine contains the G glycoprotein of the virus and has shown in multiple animal tests that it can shield against Nipah and Hendra, two closely related viruses. It originated from technology developed more than 15 years ago at the Uniformed Services University, and Profectus licensed it from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine. Both organizations will help with Profectus’ work under the CEPI contract.

An animal vaccine against Nipah has been marketed by Zoetis since 2012. Now it’s up to the new consortium to develop a version suitable for humans.

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So far, Nipah outbreaks have mainly been found in South and Southeast Asia. Besides a 1999 flare-up that killed 105 people in Malaysia, several outbreaks have been reported in India. An ongoing outbreak in the southern Indian state of Kerala has killed 12 people, according to India's National Centre for Disease Control. Cases occur annually in Bangladesh.

Because it's so confined geographically, the virus hasn’t attracted much attention from the biopharma industry. But the natural hosts of the virus—fruit bats, also called flying foxes—are found across the globe, in regions that together account for more than 2 billion people. It can also spread among humans. Those facts, combined with a recorded 75% mortality rate, have experts worried about its potential to become a global concern.

That’s where CEPI comes in. The public-private initiative, formed in the wake of the deadly Ebola epidemic, provides financial support for vaccine development efforts where there are fewer financial incentives, aiming to gin up shots for deployment during outbreaks. It has so far signed up Themis and Inovio to develop and manufacture vaccines against both MERS and Lassa fever, and just this week agreed to provide up to $54.9 million for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative to develop its Lassa vaccine candidate.