The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) awarded Tulane University a five-year contract totaling more than $15 million for its ongoing efforts to treat and prevent Lassa Fever, an often deadly viral disease that threatens hundreds of thousands of people annually in West Africa and is classified as a potential bioterrorism threat. Tulane provides both scientific (laboratory, clinical and international) resources and contract management. Their facilities include fully equipped immunology and virology laboratories run by Drs. Robinson, Garry, and Bausch.
Harvard University/Broad Institute
Harvard University provides the Consortium with expertise on methods of evolutionary adaptation in humans and pathogens. At the FAS Center for Systems Biology the Sabeti lab pursue signals of natural selection to identify their underlying functional trait and the mechanism of evolution (e.g. resistance to Lassa virus). They aim to understand how pathogens rapidly evolve, while studying the genetic diversity of pathogens guides long term intervention strategies. The Broad Institute enables the sequencing of the lassa virus genome. Read more.
Kenema Government Hospital
The Kenema Government Hospital is located 300km east of Freetown, in Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone, an area with the highest incidence of Lassa Fever in the world. Sierra Leone endured a bloody civil war for over a decade prior to its end in 2002, but the newfound peace in the region has made it possible to re-establish and expand the biomedical infrastructure, and continue Lassa Fever research in this region. Read more.
Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH)
In order to investigate the prevalence and genetic diversity of Lassa virus in Nigeria, as well as create the foundations for a study of human genetic susceptibility to Lassa Fever, the Consortium has established a study site at the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital (ISTH). The ISTH is located in Edo State, Nigeria where Lassa fever is endemic with yearly outbreaks. Read more.
Autoimmune Technologies, LLC
Autoimmune Technologies, LLC is a privately held biomedical company that was founded in New Orleans in 1995 to commercialize proprietary research discoveries. The company produces polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies and recombinant antigens used by the Consortium. In addition to new diagnostics, Autoimmune is developing new anti-viral therapeutics using its entry-inhibiting peptide technology.
Corgenix Medical Corporation, founded in 1990, is engaged in the research, development, manufacture, and marketing of in vitro diagnostic products for use in disease detection and prevention. The company currently sells over 70 diagnostic products worldwide to hospitals, clinical laboratories, commercial reference laboratories, and research institutions. The company has strategic alliances and other agreements with major biotechnology partners and distributors worldwide. Within the Consortium, Corgenix is a key participant in the development of immunodiagnostic assays to detect Lassa Fever. They are equipped to make commercial grade ELISA configured with wild-type and mutant Lassa Fever virus proteins for the quantification of B cell responses to various epitopes.
Scripps Research Institute
At the Scripps Research Institute, Dr. Ollmann Saphire focuses on the production and crystallization of glycoproteins and antibodies that play key roles in the pathogenesis and lethality of hemorrhagic fever viruses. The resulting crystal structures provide information seminal to the design of vaccines and inhibitors against the viruses as they exist naturally, and also provide structural templates that would permit us to anticipate and rapidly respond to newly emerging and man-made versions of the virus and viral proteins. Her lab seeks to understand how key, vulnerable three-dimensional epitopes may be displayed on a viral surface, and how antibodies might be targeted against them. The Ollmann Saphire lab is fully equipped for protein production, tissue culture and X-ray crystallography.
Also collaborating with the Consortium is Professor Michael Oldstone, whose lab is interested in understanding the molecular basis of how viruses infect cells, how the immune response aborts viruses, how viruses wrestle control away from the immune system to establish persistent infections, how persistent infection is initiated and maintained, and the mechanism of how such infections cause disease. Because viruses have different lifestyles, their studies focus on lessons taught primarily to three negative-strand viruses, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, measles and influenza viruses, and their interactions with the host's immune, nervous, and pulmonary system. The laboratory is also involved in prion disease pathogenesis.
University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB)
Dr. Thomas Geisbert's laboratory at UTMB focuses on the pathogenesis of emerging and re-emerging viruses that require Biosafety level 4 (BSL4) containment and on the development of countermeasures against these viruses. In addition to the Lassa virus, their research emphasizes studies on other viruses causing hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola and Marburg. Currently, there are no vaccines against Ebola, Marburg, or Lassa viruses approved for use in humans. The Geisbert laboratory focuses on using recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) as a vaccine vector for viral hemorrhagic fevers. They have shown that rVSV-based hemorrhagic fever viral vaccines can completely protect nonhuman primates against Ebola HF, Marburg HF, and Lassa fever. Specific interest areas include modifying rVSV vectors for optimal safety and immunogenicity, identifying antigens needed to develop a multiagent vaccine that can protect against major groups of hemorrhagic fever viruses, and determining the role of cellular and host immune responses in protection.
Université de Lausanne
At the Institute of Microbiology of Université de Lausanne, Switzerland, Professor Stefan Kunz's lab investigates the initial steps in arenavirus infection: the interaction of the viruses with their cellular receptors and the subsequent mechanisms of host cell entry. Their goal is to define the role of the virus-receptor interaction in infection and disease and to illuminate the largely unknown pathways in particular Lassa virus uses to invade human cells. Once pathogenic arenaviruses have penetrated into the cytoplasm of the host cell, they rapidly shut down the host cell’s powerful anti-viral defense mechanisms. Professor Kunz's group investigates the molecular mechanisms by which arenaviruses subvert the host’s innate anti-viral defense. The overall goal is to understand how arenaviruses interact with the host cell and to identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention.
Zalgen Labs, LLC
Zalgen Labs, LLC (Zalgen) was founded in 2011 and commenced operations in August 2013 at the Germantown Innovation Center (GIC), established by Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), a public instrumentality of the state of Maryland. Zalgen specializes in the design and production of critical biological molecules for development and commercialization of reliable, rapid, and affordable diagnostics; novel, non-live, safer vaccines; effective immunotherapeutic platforms targeting neglected human diseases. Zalgen’s founders have successfully developed first-to-field-use rapid diagnostic tests for Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), aided by a consortium of academic, institutional, and biotechnology partners comprising the VHFC. These diagnostics are revolutionizing the understanding of epidemiological, immunological, and basic research notions in LHF, thus contributing to dramatic improvements in the management and successful outcomes of this viral disease. The lack of effective therapeutics for many neglected diseases, including LHF, led Zalgen’s founders and consortium partners to initiate development of first-in-class immunotherapeutics against Lassa fever virus, an approach that could lead to a superior alternative to highly toxic, non-FDA approved, and not readily available nucleotide analog inhibitors of replication. Zalgen’s mission is aided by its patented CHOLCelect mammalian expression platform for production of biological therapeutic molecules, with reduced development and manufacturing costs and enhanced regulatory compliance. Zalgen is also actively engaged in the development of novel human stem cell-based therapeutic platforms that could potentiate transformative medical applications for a broad array of human diseases.