BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

January 10, 2019

Research Roundup: Vaccines without chemicals, FDA fast track for Vanelva's chikungunya vaccine, and Marburg virus found in bats in West Africa

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Satvir Malhotra

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Scientists from the Fraunhofer Society have developed a first-of-its kind technology that uses electron beams to produce inactivated vaccines quickly and reproducibly without the use of chemicals. Inactivated vaccines contain pathogens that have been killed so they are no longer harmful to patients. Often these pathogens are killed using chemicals, such as diluted formaldehyde. This process is time consuming and can have a negative impact on both the structure of the pathogen and the reproducibility of the vaccine. The new technique uses electrons to fragment the DNA of the pathogens while maintaining their external structure, which is key to triggering an effective immune response. It will likely be another two to four years before vaccines produced using electron beams can be tested in clinical trials. 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Fast Track designation to Valneva’s chikungunya vaccine candidate, which will allow the product to receive expedited review by the agency given it holds potential to fill an unmet medical need. The company is expected to release phase 1 data for the vaccine candidate in the coming weeks. Currently, there are no approved treatments or vaccines for chikungunya‒a disease that causes debilitating joint pain‒though there are several candidate vaccines in clinical testing.

The Marburg virus, a deadly cousin of Ebola, has been isolated in fruit bats in Sierra Leone, marking the first time the virus has been found in West Africa. According to two teams of scientists involved in this discovery, five bats caught in three health districts tested positive for the virus. Genetic testing revealed multiple strains of the virus in each bat, which suggests that the virus has circulated in West Africa for many years. This testing was done as part of a project funded by the US Agency for International Development, known as PREDICT, which aims to detect dangerous pathogens in animals and take steps to prevent them from crossing over into humans and triggering disease outbreaks. PREDICT takes a “one health” approach by uniting the work of medical doctors, veterinarians, and occasionally plant biologists to detect threats in other species.

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