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A new partnership for a new disease

July 30, 2019 by Steve Davis

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Outbreaks of deadly Nipah virus now occur annually in India. A vaccine could help keep people like Malti Devi and her one-year-old daughter Aachal safe. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

PATH and CEPI have joined forces to tackle Nipah virus and other emerging infectious diseases.

On May 2, 2018 a 27-year old man in the Indian state of Kerala fell ill. It began innocently enough, with fever and muscle aches, but by the next day he had been admitted to the hospital with severe vomiting and abdominal pain. His symptoms worsened over the next few days and by the evening of May 5 he was dead. The disease quickly spread through his caregivers and the two hospitals he had visited. By May 29, 23 people had been infected in total. Two of them survived.

This was Nipah virus, a deadly bat-borne disease that causes respiratory illness and encephalitis, and that has an estimated mortality rate of 75 percent (though, in the case of the May 2018 outbreak, it was even higher at 91 percent). If it sounds like something out of a movie, that’s because it is; Nipah virus inspired the thriller film Contagion and has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the most important pathogens to monitor.

There is no treatment for Nipah virus beyond supportive care. And there is currently no vaccine that protects against it.

But strategic partnership and a commitment to advance vaccines for the global good can change that.

The right team to affect change

PATH recently joined the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in its efforts to tackle Nipah virus and other emerging infectious diseases. PATH, a global organization that works to accelerate health equity by bringing together public institutions, businesses, social enterprises, and investors to solve the world’s most pressing problems, and CEPI, a global alliance between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organizations to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics, are a natural and advantageous pair. PATH’s Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access has more than 20 years of end-to-end experience developing and introducing vaccines; it has been central to the successful development and introduction of new vaccines against meningitis A, Japanese encephalitis, rotavirus, pneumococcus, malaria, and others, and today has a pipeline of more than 20 vaccine candidates. CEPI works to fill the critical gaps in the end-to-end vaccine development process. And, epidemic preparedness and equitable access are at the heart of what we both do.

We want to see a world where the vulnerable among us aren’t overlooked, and where people aren’t dying from preventable disease simply because they lack access to the tools to stop them. It’s why we focus our vaccine development efforts on the diseases that disproportionately affect women and children in low-resource settings.

We want to see a world where the vulnerable among us aren’t overlooked, and where people aren’t dying from preventable disease simply because they lack access to the tools to stop them.

We also want to see a world nimble enough to quickly intervene when outbreaks do happen, so they never become widespread or insurmountable. It’s why we pursue critical partnerships with organizations that work to build global outbreak response capacity—like CEPI.

And together, we can equip the world with new tools to protect against the deadly infectious diseases that have already cropped up—and the unknown pathogens that will arise in the future.

There's no such thing as 'no solution'

First on our shared plate is a vaccine against Nipah virus.

The 2018 outbreak in India is not the only time Nipah virus has reared its head. It was first identified in Malaysia in 1999 when an outbreak among pig farmers (pigs are susceptible to the disease and can transmit it to humans) killed 105 people—and led to the slaughter of more than 1 million pigs, which significantly hampered an entire community’s livelihood and economic security. Since, the disease has popped up throughout south and southeast Asia, particularly in India and Bangladesh (where outbreaks have occurred annually since 2001).

The planned vaccine will be designed to protect against Nipah virus (and it could possibly also protect against the closely related Hendra virus). A licensed vaccine would be stockpiled and used to control outbreaks. PATH will lead planning for the clinical development and conduct of clinical studies in the United States and endemic settings. Profectus Biosciences, Inc. will develop the vaccine.

But that’s just for now. Given our shared goals and respective strengths, PATH sees a fruitful future with CEPI and a promising pathway for tackling other emerging infectious diseases that threaten the world’s health.

Partnerships like this one can drive success, and they are part of what makes PATH great.

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