As part of the 'RABYD-VAX *' project, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union, the Belgian Scientific Institute of Public Health (WIV-ISP), the University of Leuven (KUL) and two other research centres abroad –APHA (United Kingdom) and BPRC (The Netherlands) – teamed up to develop a new-generation multivalent vaccine against rabies and yellow fever. At the end of the project (2020), we expect to have the vaccine ready for testing in humans.
The new vaccine against rabies and yellow fever will offer considerable assets that should facilitate preventive vaccination campaigns in the regions of the world where both diseases prevail. Indeed, the new vaccine will be administered in a single dose, possibly without injection, as part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule, and mass production at a lower cost should also reveal quite easy. Finally, transporting or storing the vaccine at room temperature will be possible, contrarily to many other vaccines which require a refrigerated environment.
Advanced gene technology
Developed by KUL researchers, the technology behind the experimental vaccine consists in incorporating the gene, that codes for the surface protein of the rabies virus, into the genetic material of an attenuated yellow fever virus. The DNA of this recombined virus is comprised in an extremely stable plasmid (which is a circular DNA molecule capable of expressing itself in a host cell). Once inoculated, the recombined virus comes to life and acts as a vaccine, triggering a powerful immune response. This advanced technology can also be adapted to protect against other viruses, such as the Japanese encephalitis virus or the Zika virus, for example.
The new experimental vaccine should be extremely safe, as the genetic code of the virus present in the vaccine will be fully under control. As a matter of fact, the recombined virus will not be subject to the mutations or variations which may occur during the traditional culture of viruses on cells or in eggs. In the framework of the 'RABYD-VAX' project, WIV-ISP will test the new experimental vaccine in different infectious models. In addition, the immunologists of the Institute will thoroughly analyse the immune response after inoculation of the vaccine.
Rabies and yellow fever in a nutshell
Rabies causes an estimated 59,000 deaths each year worldwide. The victims are mainly people from rural areas in Africa and Asia, the majority of whom are children. Given the high cost of the vaccine and the need to transport it and store it in a cool place, most of the population cannot benefit from preventive vaccination. Yellow fever causes 30,000 deaths a year. Although a vaccine against this disease exists, its production process is old – 80 years – and makes large-scale production difficult. This sometimes leads to severe shortages of vaccine doses. This was recently the case, during yellow fever epidemics in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Brazil is also experiencing a yellow fever outbreak since December 2016.
For further information on the project: www.rabyd-vax.eu
* The 'RABYD-VAX' project is funded by the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme of the European Union (Grant No 733176)