GALVESTON, Texas – A collaborative team of scientists, led by a group at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, have successfully protected nonhuman primates against one of the most deadly viruses in the world, Lassa fever, eight days after they became infected. The findings are now available in Nature Medicine.
The virus, for which there are no approved vaccines or treatments, infects hundreds of thousands of people every year and is estimated to kill approximately 34 percent of those infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, military and science experts say that the virus could be used as a biological terror weapon.
“In this study, we tested a combination of three monoclonal antibodies by giving them to nonhuman primates beginning up to eight days following exposure to a lethal amount of Lassa virus,” said UTMB’s Thomas Geisbert, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. “We found that the treatments were well-tolerated and provided 100 percent protection from Lassa fever. Without treatment, the animals show evidence of the virus in their bodies by day four after exposure.”
Monoclonal antibodies are widely used for treating cancers and autoimmune diseases and more than 45 different types are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Medicines Agency.
“The fact that the treatment was able to rescue 100 percent of the animals more than a week after infection with Lassa virus suggests that this therapy may benefit patients with Lassa fever in West Africa, who often arrive at the clinic at a late stage of disease,” said Robert Garry, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Tulane. “We are accelerating further development so that this promising treatment can be introduced into clinics in West Africa and deployed as a deterrent against the use of Lassa virus as a bioweapon.”
Recently, travelers on commercial airlines have imported Lassa fever into Europe and the U.S., highlighting the potential for spread of the disease. The disease is classified as a Category A pathogen – an organism that poses the highest risk to national security and public health – by several U.S. government agencies because of the concern for deliberate misuse.
Other authors of the study include UTMB’s Chad Mire, Robert Cross, Joan Geisbert, Viktoriya Borisevich, Krystle Agans, Daniel Deer, Karla Fenton; Megan Heinrich, Megan Rowland, Mathew Boisen, Luis Branco and Robert Garry from Zalgen Labs, LLC; Augustine Goba, Donald Grant, Mohamed Fullah and Sheik Humarr Khan from The Kenema Government Hospital and The Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Freetown, Sierra Leone – Mambu Momoh is affiliated with both Sierra Leone institutions as well as Polytechnic College in Kenema Sierra Leone; James Robinson and Robert Garry are affiliated with Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.