It is estimated that about 100,000 to 300,000 cases of Lassa virus infection occur each year.

Under the terms of the Framework Partnering Agreement for the collaboration among the three parties, Profectus will receive development funding from CEPI for advancing its Lassa virus vaccine.

CEPI will provide $4.3m to support the first phase of the project, with options to invest up to a total of $36m over five years, including procurement of the vaccine for stockpiling purposes. Emergent will provide technical and manufacturing support for the CEPI-funded program.

Through a separate agreement with Profectus, Emergent has an exclusive option to license and to assume control of development activities for the Lassa-virus vaccine from Profectus.

The global non-profit organization PATH will also be working with the consortium under a separate agreement with CEPI to work on clinical development. This is CEPI’s second award to the collaboration following an award in May this year, for the development of a Nipah virus vaccine.

Lassa virus infection—a single-stranded RNA virus belonging to the family Arenaviridae—can cause the acute viral hemorrhagic illness known as Lassa fever. First described in the 1950s, the virus was identified in 1969 after two missionary nurses died from the disease in the Nigerian town of Lassa.

The virus is spread to humans via contact with food or household items that have been contaminated with urine or feces from Mastomys rats. Person-to-person transmission occurs in both community and healthcare settings, where the virus can spread via contaminated medical equipment. Sexual transmission of Lassa virus has also been reported.

About 80% of people who become infected have no symptoms. One in five infections results in severe disease, where the virus affects several organs such as the liver, spleen and kidneys.5 The virus is endemic in Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, but probably exists in other West African countries as well. There is currently no approved vaccine that protects against Lassa virus.

This year has seen outbreaks of Lassa virus in Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and South Sudan, with Nigeria facing its largest ever outbreak of the disease.

CEPI CEO Dr. Richard Hatchett said: “With 472 confirmed cases to date and 121 deaths, 2018 has seen Nigeria battle its largest documented outbreak of Lassa virus on record. Lassa fever continues to be a threat to public health in many parts of West Africa and has clearly demonstrated its potential to cause severe epidemics. In view of its epidemic potential, the World Health Organization has identified Lassa virus as a priority pathogen that needs further research and development. But despite the urgent need, no approved vaccine against the virus is currently available.

CEPI’s investment of up to $36m, over a five-year period, adds another Lassa vaccine candidate to CEPI’s growing portfolio and demonstrates our commitment to addressing this terrible disease.”

Profectus BioSciences chair and CEO Thomas Lynch said: “Profectus is pleased to partner with CEPI, Emergent, and PATH in the development of our VesiculoVax-vectored vaccine to protect against Lassa fever. Jointly we can address the substantial unmet medical need of those living in, or travelling to, areas where Lassa virus is endemic.”

Emergent BioSolutions CEO Daniel J. Abdun-Nabi said: “Through our collaboration with Profectus, CEPI, and PATH, Emergent is pleased to be part of the solution to provide medical countermeasures for emerging infectious diseases where there are none currently such as for Lassa fever. Our Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing is designed for surge manufacturing during public health emergencies, when they count the most.”

Source: Company Press Release