UK trial is the first step to develop a vaccine against the Nipah virus – a devastating disease mostly found in South-East Asia – that can be fatal in up to 75% of cases. The milestone clinical trial comes as the global health community marks the 25th anniversary of the first Nipah virus outbreaks. There are still no approved vaccines or treatments for the disease.
The University of Oxford has launched a new clinical trial to test a vaccine to protect people against the deadly Nipah virus. 51 people aged 18 to 55 will participate in the trial, which will be led by the Oxford Vaccine Group and is funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
Nipah virus is a devastating disease that can be fatal in around 75% of cases. Outbreaks have occurred in countries in South-East Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India, with a recent outbreak in Kerala, India in September 2023. Nipah virus is carried by fruit bats and may also be transmitted by contact with infected animals (such as pigs) or from person to person via close contact.
The virus, which is recognised by the World Health Organization as a priority disease requiring urgent research, belongs to the same family of paramyxoviruses as more well-known pathogens such as measles. Despite the first outbreaks of the Nipah virus occurring 25 years ago in Malaysia and Singapore, there are currently no approved vaccines or treatments.
Professor Brian Angus, Professor and Reader in Infectious Diseases at NDM’s Centre for Clinical Tropical Medicine and Global Health and the Principal Investigator of the trial said: ‘Nipah virus was first identified in 1998, and yet 25 years on the global health community still has no approved vaccines or treatments for this devastating disease. 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 occurring, while also helping the world prepare for a future global pandemic.’
Dr In-Kyu Yoon, Acting Executive Director of Vaccine Research & Development at CEPI, funder of the trial and one of the leading global funders of Nipah virus research, said: ‘Nipah has epidemic potential, with its fruit bat hosts found in areas home to over two billion people. This trial is a step forward in efforts to build a suite of tools to protect against this killer virus. Knowledge gained could also inform the development of other Paramyxovirus countermeasures.’
The University of Oxford has produced the vaccine against Nipah virus using the ChAdOx1 platform, the same viral vector vaccine platform used for the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, saving an estimated 6 million lives worldwide. The project will run over the next 18 months, with further trials expected to follow in a Nipah-affected country.
The vaccine trial is a key part of the Pandemic Sciences Institute’s Henipavirus Programme, which is working with partners in endemic countries to develop practical tools that will ensure the world is better prepared for future outbreaks. This includes providing world-leading biomedical research and developing ethical frameworks to minimise stigma from the disease.