SFBR receives contract to test vaccines for Ebola, Marburg viruses

SAN ANTONIO — The Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research announced Jan. 6 that it has received a contract from the Dutch pharmaceutical firm Crucell to test a vaccine against Ebola and Marburg viruses, which cause hemorrhagic fevers. The initial contract is for $456,216 with additional potential subcontracts to be signed worth a further $2.2 million.

SFBR’s Department of Virology and Immunology will test the immunogenicity and efficacy of a multivalent vaccine against five different strains of the viruses in animal models. SFBR’s high-level biocontainment facilities will be used to study the vaccines during 2010.

The work is part of a $30 million primary contract awarded to Crucell by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

Crucell’s vaccine is based on inserting genetic material from the disease-causing virus or parasite into a vehicle called a vector, which then delivers the immunogenic material directly to the immune system.

The Ebola and Marburg viruses are capable of causing hemorrhagic fever, a severe, often-fatal disease in humans characterized by high fever and massive internal bleeding causing death in 50 percent to 80 percent of all cases.

Ebola and Marburg outbreaks occur periodically in tropical Africa, affecting both human and great ape populations.

Since the Ebola virus was first recognized, approximately 2,200 cases including more than 1,500 deaths have been reported. To date more than 440 cases of Marburg have been reported with approximately 360 fatalities. Ebola and Marburg usually appear in sporadic outbreaks, and spread within a health-care setting.

Because of the high disease-related mortality rates and lack of any vaccine or therapy, the Ebola and Marburg viruses are on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “category A” list of bioterror agents, along with smallpox and anthrax.

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