As part of the RABYD-VAX project, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union, Sciensano, the University of Leuven (KU Leuven, Rega Institute) and two other research centres abroad – Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA, United Kingdom) and Biomedical Primate Research Center (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 RABYD-VAX consortium aims to develop a vaccine that protects against both rabies and yellow fever that can be given as part of routine childhood vaccinations. This multivalent vaccine will be highly efficient, safe, temperature-stable, easy-to-produce and cheap, and will also allow for needle-free administration. To reach this goal, we will use an entirely novel vaccine technology developed at KU Leuven, named PLLAV (plasmid-launched live-attenuated vaccine platform).
Rabies is one of the deadliest diseases on earth, with a near 100% fatality rate. This viral disease is transmitted to humans via the bite of infected animals, predominantly dogs. Annually, an estimated >59,000 people die from rabies, mostly in rural areas of Africa and Asia, disproportionately affecting children under the age of 15 years. Rabies is considered as a neglected tropical disease and as such pre-immunisation is rarely, if ever considered, for populations in endemic areas. Furthermore, the high costs and requirement for vaccines to be transported and stored at cool temperatures means that few receive vaccination. The yellow fever virus (YFV) is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that can cause a severe and life-threatening infection with jaundice, systemic bleeding, shock and multi-organ failure. As with rabies, although vaccines have been available for decades, the human burden from YF is high with an estimated 30,000 people dying annually. For YF, the inability to rapidly generate sufficient vaccine doses, through archaic production techniques, prevents production on the scale required. As such YF-outbreaks can rapidly become uncontrollable as exemplified by recent epidemics in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo where the entire WHO vaccine repository was depleted trying to vaccinate the population of Luanda (~6 million inhabitants). More recently, the Brazilian Ministry of Health has reported an ongoing outbreak of yellow fever that began in December 2016. The principal goal of the RABYD-VAX consortium is to generate novel multivalent vaccines that can help to overcome these restrictions to vaccine availability and protect human health.