Pirbright researchers have been awarded £389,089 to develop a Nipah virus vaccine that could protect pigs and prevent disease in humans.
This funding was provided by the UK government’s UK Vaccine Network (UKVN) and will be delivered by Innovate UK. The Institute’s award is part of £10million of UK aid funding going to 22 projects advancing research into vaccines to tackle some of the world’s deadliest diseases in low- and middle-income countries. These include Nipah, Ebola, Lassa fever, Zika, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) and Chikungunya virus.
Nipah virus can be transmitted to pigs from infected fruit bats, which contaminate the environment with their saliva, urine or faeces containing the virus. Infected pigs can then pass the virus on to humans when they come into close contact. This was seen in Malaysia, where the first outbreak of Nipah virus saw over 200 human cases in pig farmers.
While the disease is relatively mild in pigs, in humans it is much more dangerous. Initial symptoms include fever, headache, coughing and breathing difficulties, followed by brain swelling and leading to a coma. If a human becomes infected with the virus, there is a 45 to 75 percent chance that they will die.
There is currently no vaccine against Nipah virus in pigs and control methods include having ‘designated pig farming areas’ and culling of animals during an outbreak to prevent the spread of disease.
Researchers at Pirbright aim to change this by developing a vaccine which will protect pigs from the virus. They aim to exploit a highly successful pseudorabies vaccine that is routinely used to vaccinate pigs in Southeast Asia. In collaboration with the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Germany, they will genetically engineer the vaccine so it can also induce protection against Nipah virus. This dual-purpose vaccine should be an economically viable approach to mass immunisation of pigs against Nipah virus. The team also plan to develop a companion diagnostic test that can tell the difference between animals that have been vaccinated and animals that have been naturally infected. Without this, disease surveillance and determining the success of the vaccine would be difficult.
Professor Simon Graham, leader of the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) Immunology group at Pirbright said: “The risk of this emerging disease is increasing due to the increase in pig farming across Southeast Asia. In turn, this increases the risk of pig to human transmission which could have devastating consequences for pig and human health. With a vaccine to protect pigs, we will be able to improve pig health and welfare, while also preventing transmission to humans, this is why work to create an effective vaccine is so important.
This grant will help us build upon our existing research and produce a vaccine that will give at-risk countries the opportunity to protect their pig populations. In addition to the welfare and economic advantages this will bring, it offers an opportunity to create a vaccine that will protect humans from Nipah virus infection”.
Further information on the £10million funding award can be found on the UKRI website.
Image: electron microscope image of Nipah virus