Viruses and pathogens

  • Ricin toxin vaccine shows promise in a non-human primate study

    Ricin toxin is a plant toxin thought to be a bioterror threat because of its stability and high potency as well as the large worldwide reservoir created as a by-product of castor oil production. As a poison, ricin is so potent that the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the lethal dose in humans is about the size of a grain of salt. There are currently no effective means to prevent the effects of ricin poisoning. Soligenix, Inc., a clinical stage biopharmaceutical company developing several biodefense vaccines and therapeutics, announced last week promising preliminary results from a preclinical study with its ricin toxin vaccine RiVax, in a non-human primate (NHP) lethal aerosol exposure model.

  • HHS awards $24.9 million contract to accelerate development of Ebola drug

    The development of a medication to treat illness from Ebola will be accelerated under a contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). HHS says that this contract supports the government-wide response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The $24.9 million, 18-month contract with Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., of San Diego, California, may be extended up to a total of $42.3 million. HHS notes that it is seeking additional proposals for the advanced development of antibody treatments, antiviral drugs, and vaccines against the Ebola and Marburg viruses.

  • Ebola now threatening West Africa’s major cities

    The Ebola virus has begun to spread in Guinea in March, then spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and then to Nigeria and Congo. It is now threatening to overwhelm West Africa’s largest cities. The virus is now infecting not only remote rural provinces, but also large cities such as Freetown, Sierra Leone and Monrovia, Liberia — places where millions of people live in close quarters, making the situation exponentially more dangerous.

  • NIH launching human safety study of Ebola vaccine candidate

    The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will this week begin initial human testing of an investigational vaccine to prevent Ebola virus disease. The early-stage trial will begin initial human testing of a vaccine co-developed by NIAID and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and will evaluate the experimental vaccine’s safety and ability to generate an immune system response in healthy adults. The study is the first of several Phase 1 clinical trials that will examine the investigational NIAID/GSK Ebola vaccine and an experimental Ebola vaccine developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to NewLink Genetics Corp.

  • West Africa Ebola cases to rise to 20,000; in Liberia virus uncontainable: WHO

    The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday warned the number of Ebola cases could rise to 20,000, while doctors in Liberia say the virus is now spreading so rapidly that the Ebola epidemic, at least in Liberia, can no longer be contained by the resources available in the country. WHO says the outbreak is accelerating throughout west Africa, where the number of deaths yesterday crossed the 1,500 mark, with 1,552 confirmed deaths. The number of those infected reached 3,069 – but health specialists say the numbers of those infected could be two to four times higher. The health care infrastructure in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leon is so poor, and large parts of each country have no meaningful health care system at all, that reports of those infected with the Ebola virus and those who died from it must be considered as underestimates.

  • Potential therapy for the Sudan strain of Ebola may contain some future outbreaks

    Ebola is a rare but deadly disease that exists as five strains, none of which has approved therapies. One of the most lethal strains is the Sudan Ebolavirus (SUDV). Although not the strain currently devastating West Africa, SUDV has caused widespread illness, even as recently as 2012. In a new study appearing in the journal ACS Chemical Biology, researchers report a possible therapy that could someday help treat patients infected with SUDV.

  • Wellcome Trust announces emergency Ebola research initiative

    The Wellcome Trust announced the emergency Ebola initiative, which includes contributions from partner funders, and which aims to support research that can swiftly begin to investigate new approaches to treating, preventing, and containing the disease during the current epidemic in West Africa. The initiative will also support research into the ethical challenges of testing experimental medicines during epidemics.

  • Poll finds many in U.S. lack knowledge about Ebola and its transmission

    Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports no known cases of Ebola transmission in the United States, a Harvard School of Public Health poll released last week shows that four in ten (39 percent) adults in the United States are concerned that there will be a large outbreak in the United States, and a quarter (26 percent) are concerned that they or someone in their immediate family may get sick with Ebola over the next year.

  • U.S. Army researchers help fight Ebola in the field

    U.S. Army researchers are working on developing vaccines for the deadly Ebola virus, as well as combating the spread of the virus and caring for those who are infected. The virus has now killed more than 1,000 in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria. Researchers from the Applied Diagnostics Branch, U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), along with researchers from Public Health Canada, helped develop the serum given recently to two U.S. medical workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who contracted the virus while working with patients infected by Ebola in West Africa, Schoepp said.

  • Epidemic ethics: four lessons from the current Ebola outbreak

    The extent of the current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has belatedly focused the attention of non-governmental organizations, local and Western governments, and international media. What we haven’t caught up with though, is the extent to which these outbreaks and their devastating effects are predictable and preventable. The spread of Ebola virus occurs because health infrastructure in the region is fragmented, under-resourced, or non-existent. And the therapeutic response to the illness is constrained by failure of markets to drive drug and vaccine development that would help the world’s poorest people.

  • Climate change makes Europe hospitable to Dengue fever

    Dengue fever is a tropical disease caused by a virus that is spread by mosquitoes, with symptoms including fever, headache, muscle and joint pain. Each year, dengue infects fifty million people worldwide and causes approximately 12,000 deaths — mostly in South-east Asia, and the Western Pacific. Scientists say that Dengue fever could make headway in popular European holiday destinations if climate change continues on its predicted trajectory.

  • Liberia quarantines area the size of Wales in an effort to contain Ebola spread

    In an effort to control the spread of Ebola throughout West Africa, Liberia has quarantined areas at the epicenter of the epidemic. Experts say the quarantine is not likely to be effective because of two reasons: people inside and outside the quarantined areas – called “Unified Sectors” – still lack effective medical services, and the growing shortages of food and clean water inside the Unified Sectors will force people from inside those areas to go outside in search of food. The areas – which, combined, are the size of Wales — are too large to be effectively monitored.

  • Ebola poses no risk in U.S.: Experts

    Ebola has infected nearly 2,000 people in West Africa because the disease is spreading in populated areas with poor public health infrastructure, and where health workers might not be taking proper infection control procedures, such as wearing gloves, experts say. These experts note that Ebola can be contracted only from patients who have the symptoms, not those who are infected, and even then infection occurs only when coming into contact with bodily fluids. They say that SARS and the flu are more contagious than Ebola.

  • Isolation: More countries sever trade, transportation links with Ebola-affected states

    The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on governments not to impose sweeping bans on trade and travel on Ebola-affected countries. The organization’s urgent call followed the announcement by Kenya that it was joining a growing list of countries severing all trade and transportation links to the three west African countries most affected by Ebola – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Independently of government actions, many airlines have already stopped flying to and from the three countries. The disease has already killed at least 1,145 people in these three countries and in Nigeria.

  • CHIKV Challenge: Forecasting the spread of infectious disease

    Modeling the future spread of infectious diseases is extremely challenging. Many current infectious diseases models tend to be based on historic data. There are numerous sources of potentially useful data that could be incorporated into a forecast, but it is difficult to predict which will be most informative. One goal of DARPA’s Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) challenge is to inspire the creation of teams drawn from multiple disciplines, including not only specialists in public health and infectious disease, but also experts in mathematics, meteorology, entomology, computer science, and bioinformatics, among other fields. The teams will build models that predict the spread of the Chikungunya virus in the Americas. the products could be applied to other diseases and inform responses to emergencies.