UTMB Scientists Develop a Vaccine Against Nipah Virus

Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch have developed a vaccine showing promising protection against Nipah virus, a zoonotic virus that has a mortality rate as high as 70 percent and that is considered to be a pathogen of pandemic potential. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists working in the Biosafety Level 4 Lab at the Galveston National Laboratory developed the rapid-acting vaccine using a harmless recombinant Vesicular stomatitis virus vector to deliver a piece of the Nipah virus, the surface glycoprotein, to the cells. This then triggers an immune response, which keeps a memory of the protein to deal with the virus in the future. 

The vaccine was tested on African green monkeys and has shown effective protection against the virus when the vaccine was administered either seven days or three days before exposure. “Our data suggest that this vaccine can help rapidly generate protective immunity in humans against the virus,” said Dr.  Courtney Woolsey, co-lead author of the study.  “This could be utilized as an efficient emergency vaccine to disrupt potential spreading of Nipah disease in an outbreak setting.”

Nipah virus is a type of henipavirus naturally held in fruit bats. The virus can cause illness in pigs and humans, and can be spread to humans from animals, infected food and other people with the virus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has been listed as one of the viruses most likely to cause the next pandemic by the World Health Organization. It is an emerging highly lethal zoonotic disease that, like SARS-CoV-2, can be transmitted via respiratory droplets. Single-injection vaccines that rapidly control virus outbreaks are needed.

Currently, there are no vaccines licensed for the prevention of Nipah disease. To date, there are no vaccine approved for humans but at least eight experimental preventive candidate vaccines against henipaviruses have been evaluated in preclinical animal models.