Vaccine research

Research to develop pan-henipavirus vaccine

The UK is looking to boost its pandemic preparedness as the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) moves to develop a vaccine for henipavirus.

Henipavirus is a genus of viruses, which includes the Nipah virus that can be transmitted from animals to humans, causing severe respiratory illness, brain inflammation and death.

Despite having a high fatality rate, there are no licensed vaccines or treatments for Nipah virus making it a current and future global health threat.

Given the World Health Organisation also considers Nipah virus as having pandemic potential, UKHSA is joining forces with the Pirbright Institute, a research institute that studies infectious disease in animals.

“This is especially important as we try to build more robust pandemic preparedness…”

The aim is to develop a vaccine that protects against the entire genus – characterised as a pan-henipavirus vaccine – rather than focusing on one specific virus.

UKHSA experts will use a model of Nipah virus disease to mimic the infection in humans and evaluate vaccines developed by the Pirbright Institute.

Pirbright’s Dr Dalan Bailey said: “Understanding whether vaccines for Nipah or other henipaviruses can provide cross-protection against related viruses is a really important first step in the development of broadly acting vaccines.

“This is especially important as we try to build more robust pandemic preparedness plans in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we are delighted to be working with UKHSA on this project.”

The work is being funded by the Medical Research Council. To find out more about innovation in the life sciences sector, register for National Health Executive’s dedicated event.

“This study will deepen our understanding of henipaviruses…”

While there have been no cases of Nipah virus in the UK, there have outbreaks in Bangladesh and India. A vaccine against the whole genus would protect against imported cases and support global health efforts.

UKHSA’s chief scientific officer, Professor Isabel Oliver, explained: “This study will deepen our understanding of henipaviruses and make significant progress in our efforts to protect health from this current and future global health threat.”

Image credit: iStock

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