A vaccine contract potentially worth as much as $31 million was recently awarded to the University of Tokyo (UTokyo) by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), to counteract the bat-borne Nipah virus.
Nipah is a highly virulent disease, with a fatality rate that, according to Richard Hatchett, the CEO of CEPI, doesn’t fall below 40 percent, and can reach total fatality. The contract with UTokyo marks CEPI’s third investment in Nipah vaccine candidates, in the hopes of finding a remedy. UTokyo’s crack at such a remedy relies on a recombinant vaccine, inserting Nipah virus genes into an attenuated measles viral vaccine, causing immune responses that could fight off Nipah.
“We have been working with measles and related viruses for nearly 30 years, and with Nipah virus for 15 years,” Chieko Kai, lead investigator and a director at the Institute of Medical Science at UTokyo, said. “The measles-vectored Nipah vaccine in this project is one of the most effective among several Nipah vaccine candidates that we have created with different measles vectors. We believe that our Nipah vaccine is the most promising one for saving human lives from deadly Nipah virus infection.”
Nipah has been under scrutiny since 1999, when it killed more than 100 people and more than a million pigs in Malaysia and Singapore. Since then, the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled it a priority pathogen, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have declared it a category C Bioterrorism agent.
The most recent sample of its unrelenting danger struck in India’s Kerala state where, in May 2018, it killed 17 of 19 people infected. To date, there is no vaccine or treatment available for Nipah virus.