Oxford vaccine for Nipah virus goes into human trial

Representational image of vaccinereuters

The University of Oxford has started human trials of the vaccine for deadly Nipah virus that led to outbreaks in parts of Asia.

The name of the vaccine is ‘ChAdOx1 NipahB’.

Physicians, researchers and epidemiologists have mentioned this as an extremely significant endeavour.

In terms of damages it causes, Nipah virus is now the second most devastating disease in the world after rabies. If infected with this virus, the patient dies in almost 75 per cent of the cases. However, there’s a vaccine for rabies but no vaccine for Nipah virus.

The Pandemic Sciences Institute at the University of Oxford has invented the ‘ChAdOx1 NipahB’ vaccine. And now Oxford vaccine Group is leading the project of beginning human trial. Nipah is there on World Health Organization (WHO)’s list of most priority diseases. The University of Oxford issued a notice on 11 January, stating about the human trial of Nipah vaccine.

Professor Brian Angus, the trial’s principal investigator as well as professor of infectious diseases at the Centre for Clinical Tropical Medicine and Global Health at the University of Oxford said, "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, while also helping the world prepare for a future global pandemic."

Why so much concern about Nipah virus

The Nipah virus was first identified in Malaysia back in 1998. Bangladesh government’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), constantly monitors the transmission of Nipah virus.

According to the information provided by the agency, the first Nipah virus outbreak was identified in Bangladesh back in 2001 in Meherpur district. As many as 71 per cent of all the people who have been infected with Nipah virus in the next two decades have died.

There were a total 14 cases of Nipah virus infection in the country last year (till March, 2023) and it resulted in death for 10 of them. Starting from 2001 till now, a total of 339 persons infected with Nipah virus have been identified in the country and 240 of them have died.

A type of fruit bat is the carrier of this virus. This virus spreads when the saliva or droppings of the bat get mixed in the fresh date juice. The disease control wing of the health ministry has urged everyone not to drink raw date juice this year.

IEDCR says the danger of Nipah virus infection is on the rise. Three new risks have emerged- 1. Children and adolescents are being affected more this time, 2. Presence of Nipah virus has been detected in breast milk and, 3. There has been a fresh sighting of this virus in Narsingdi.

A type of fruit bat is the carrier of Nipah virus. This virus spreads when the saliva or droppings of the bat gets mixed in the fresh date juice.
Representational Image

Senior scientific officer at IEDCR, Sharmin Sultana told Prothom Alo recently, “There had been no previous case of Nipah virus spreading through breast milk. This is undoubtedly a matter of concern for us.”

Apart from the high fatality rate of Nipah, if infected with this virus once the patient also has to bear the brunt throughout their life, said emeritus professor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) ABM Abdullah.

He told Prothom Alo, “Even if the patient infected with Nipah virus survives, many suffer permanent brain damage. Some parts of their body become paralysed while some develop chronic seizures.”

 How the trial would be done

Bangladeshi researcher Md Zakiul Hassan has been doing a PhD research on the Nipah virus at the Pandemic Sciences Institute of the University of Oxford. He told Prothom Alo that the Oxford vaccine would be tried on 51 individuals aged between 18 and 55 years.

Out of those 51 persons, six will get double shots of the Nipah vaccine named ‘ChAdOx1 NipahB’. Some of the remaining 45 people will get a single shot of the vaccine while some will be given a shot of placebo. Some group will get double shots of the vaccine or double shots of placebo.

Though the placebo doesn’t have any treating effect, it is still used in medical field. Usually the patients are given this medicine for mental satisfaction. The placebo used in the Nipah vaccine trial is actually saltwater.

According to the University of Oxford, this vaccine of Nipah virus has been created with a weaker specimen of chimpanzee adenovirus. Chimpanzee adenovirus is a naturally generated virus. This has absolutely no connection to Nipah virus.

Chimpanzee adenovirus can cause mild cold or flu-like symptoms among chimpanzees. Researchers have made the virus from a weaker variant of chimpanzee adenovirus using genetic engineering.

Researcher Zakiul Hassan told Prothom Alo, “Researchers took a weaker variant of chimpanzee adenovirus and infused a free gene of Nipah virus with it.  That gene reported a highly significant component of Nipah virus called ‘GlycoproteinG’. The researchers want to see if people who have been given the vaccine would develop immunity against Nipah virus or not.”

The University of Oxford sources stated that the same technology that was used to create the Oxford or AstraZeneca vaccine for the coronavirus has been used to create the vaccine for Nipah virus. This vaccine would be applied on a trial basis in several countries affected by Nipah virus including Bangladesh.  

Epidemiologist Mushtuq Husain told Prothom Alo, “Human trial of Nipah virus vaccine is a major incident. Earlier, there was a trial in the United States also. But the significance of the Oxford vaccine is that Bangladesh is involved with this. The work of inventing the Nipah virus vaccine has been going on in Bangladesh also. Hopefully, that will be successful as well.”

Notably, under the supervision of the United States’ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Moderna had started early-stage trials of a Nipah virus vaccine in 2022.

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