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River Blindness Vaccine R&D Gets $3.6 Million Grant

JUN 27, 2017 | EINAV KEET
The project helps to continue the work that began in 2015 with The Onchocerciasis Vaccine for Africa (TOVA), an international initiative to eliminate river blindness through the development of recombinant protein-based vaccines. Maria Elena Bottazzi, PhD, who is leading Baylor’s effort, told Contagion® that funding from the NIH/NIAID grant will be critical in getting the TOVA initiative to its next stages. “One of the biggest roadblocks has been the absence of funds to advance onchocerciasis vaccine development,” said Dr. Bottazzi. “Another [roadblock] is the perception that onchocerciasis might be eliminated with mass drug administration, or MDA, alone. While we agree that MDA has been an important advance in the fight to combat river blindness, evidence shows that it will not be possible to eliminate this disease through MDA alone. [Instead, it] requires innovative complementary tools such as vaccines.”
 
After applying state-of-the-art practices in vaccine development, the research team is ready for the next stage of the process. “We now have 2 lead vaccine candidates for the river blindness vaccine,” said Dr. Bottazzi. These are the Ov-103 and Ov-RAL-2 antigens the team will be working with. Dr Bottazzi further explained that the vaccine candidates will be evaluated both separately and together when co-administered as a bivalent vaccine. At least 2 sets of clinical trials are on the critical path for TOVA, including Phase 1 clinical trials in adult volunteers for safety and immunogenicity, says Dr. Bottazzi. “Before this is achieved, our funding will be used to support product development activities to develop the vaccine product and perform important preclinical studies to assess immunogenicity and efficacy in a cow model for onchocerciasis.”
 
Dr. Bottazzi notes that while vaccine development has inherent risks and longtime horizons, this grant brings the world closer to a river blindness vaccine. “Hopefully by the end of the grant period we can advance the vaccine candidates and be ready to commence clinical trials.”
 
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