1. What exactly is Nipah Virus and how does it affect patients?
Nipah virus is a zoonotic infectious disease, meaning that it has jumped from animals to humans, like coronavirus. Nipah lives in fruit bats and can spread to humans through food and drink contaminated by fruit bat droppings. The virus was first discovered in 1999 following an outbreak of disease in pigs and people in Malaysia and Singapore. It’s part of the henipavirus genus of paramyxoviruses, similar to measles and mumps and is incredibly serious. It can kill as many as three out of four infected people so there is an extremely urgent need to develop a safe, effective and easily administered vaccine to prevent a future pandemic.
2. Why has it been deemed a future pandemic threat?
While outbreaks so far have been small and localised to parts of the Indian sub-continent as well as Asia, the opportunity for the virus to spread from fruit bats to other animals and to humans is extremely high given they are in close contact. The virus can also spread from human-to-human and is thought to do so through saliva and respiratory secretions, similar to coronavirus. It also has an incubation period in humans of up to 45 days, increasingly the likelihood of human-to-human spread. There is very little awareness about the virus, which increases the chance of outbreaks.
3. What is the funding you’ve received to progress your Nipah virus vaccine candidate?
We’ve received £288,000 in funding from the Department of Health and Social Care’s UK Vaccine Network programme, delivered by Innovate UK. It is part of a larger programme by the UK government, funded by UK Aid, to develop new vaccines and technologies to tackle diseases that have the potential to become epidemics. It’s fantastic to see the UK government thinking ahead and supporting innovation in this important and previously underserved area. The funding will be used to help us develop an oral vaccine candidate against Nipah.
4. What will the funding enable you to do?
This funding will help us to develop a tailored adenovirus vector to deliver some of the genetic material of the Nipah virus into human cells, which will trigger an immune response and stimulate the body to produce antibodies and T cells to protect against future exposure. We will be utilising our OraPro™ thermal stabilization technology to create a vaccine that can be administered orally. It will allow us to undertake preclinical studies and get the vaccine to a point where we have a candidate that’s ready to progress towards clinical testing.
5. Could you tell us more about your OraPro™ thermal stabilization technology and how it was developed?
Our OraPro™ platform technology enables us to create vaccines that can be administered orally in capsule form. It makes the viral vector thermally stable, capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 50°C, and so can pass through the hostile conditions in the stomach without loss of efficacy.
It was developed out of original work being done by our Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Jeff Drew, to alleviate the cold chain requirements for vaccines, which results in around half of vaccines being wasted due to storage at incorrect temperatures and limits global access to vaccines, particularly to low- and middle-income countries where temperature control is expensive. The ability of our oral vaccines to withstand high temperatures removes refrigeration requirements during manufacturing, shipping and storage, and increases access.
6. What will be the biggest challenges for this vaccination programme?
The lack of awareness of the virus within the communities where the risk of infection is high is a huge challenge. Given these communities are situated in rural, difficult to reach areas, once a vaccine is approved, there will be a big challenge in shipping and storing the vaccines. An oral vaccine would be extremely advantageous in that it does not require refrigeration and can be taken in capsule form without the need for a healthcare professional.