GNL In the News

Team Wins New Grant for Vaccine Development

Dec 2, 2022, 13:36 PM by Connie Holubar

Scientists working in the Biosafety Level 4 labs in the Galveston National Lab have been awarded a project agreement worth up to $87.4 million for the development of a vaccine technology against advanced and emerging viral threats that are of concern to the U.S. Military.

Dr. Thomas Geisbert and Dr. Robert Cross will serve as co-PIs for UTMB.

The project will be funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

The goal for the project is to focus on the development of vaccines for Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV) and Nipah virus (NiV). CCHFV is found in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia and death rates range from 9% to as high as 50%. NiV outbreaks occur mostly in Asia with death occurring 61% of the time. There are no approved vaccines for these two potentially lethal viruses.

The project covers development of the vaccines through successful completion of Phase 1 clinical trials. UTMB has partnered with HDT Bio Corp., a developer of immunotherapies for infectious diseases and oncology, to leverage the company’s self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) vaccine platform technology and proprietary LION™ delivery system.

The PI for HDT Bio is Dr. Jesse Erasmus, a former UTMB student who did his graduate work in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Weaver. Dr. Heinz Feldmann of Rocky Mountain Labs will lead a collaborating team from NIAID's Rocky Mountain Labs.

“The CoVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated a shift in vaccination approaches, where RNA-based vaccines were instrumental in rapidly addressing the global need for a vaccine,” said UTMB Co-PI Dr. Robert Cross, “This partnership will build on the successes of HDT Bio to generate potent RNA vaccination technologies targeting SARS-CoV-2 in order to address other high priority viruses with pandemic potential.”

“The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is an example of how quickly viruses can emerge and spread,” said UTMB Co-PI Dr. Thomas Geisbert. “An important mission of the Galveston National Laboratory is to develop medical countermeasures to combat highly lethal pathogens. We thank DOD and HHS for the opportunity to work with the MCDC and our colleagues at HDT Bio and Rocky Mountain Laboratories to develop vaccines that can protect against CCHF and NiV.”  

CCHFV and NiV are zoonotic viruses but also can be transmitted from infected people through close contact with bodily fluids. CCHFV is transmitted by ticks with a variety of domestic and wild animals, such as cattle, sheep, goats and rabbits, serving as amplifying hosts for the virus. The virus can cause severe internal bleeding followed by organ failure and death. NiV is passed to humans from pigs and fruit bats. The virus causes encephalitis and severe respiratory disease, and outbreaks occur regularly in regions of Asia and India. NiV also poses a potential national security threat to the United States. 

Both of the viruses contain multiple antigen targets that have previously been associated with protective immunity, which affords an opportunity to design and develop vaccines against more than one vulnerability using a multi-antigen approach.

“Next-generation technologies are urgently needed to enable multi-antigen RNA vaccine strategies to combat emerging infectious diseases in a safe and tolerable manner,” said HDT Bio’s PI Dr. Jesse Erasmus, “With the recent emergency use authorization of our LION/saRNA platform for COVID-19, the first saRNA technology to reach this milestone, we are poised to unlock this modality’s dose-sparing capacity to achieve multi-target protective immunity in humans.”