Lassa fever (LF) is a major public health concern causing widespread loss of life and social disruption across West Africa. There is no approved LF vaccine, and ribavirin, the only available therapeutic, has modest efficacy and severe side-effects.
The VHFC has committed resources toward development of first-in-class immunotherapeutics against Lassa fever. To this end, human monoclonal antibodies (huMAbs) have been derived from Lassa fever survivors treated at the Kenema Government Hospital in Sierra Leone who developed sustained IgG titers against recombinant LASV antigens. LASV neutralizing huMAbs have been identified that resulted in superior protection in passive transfer studies in a newly developed uniformly lethal guinea pig LF model and in non-human primate models of the disease. A subset of neutralizing antibodies displayed cross-reactivity with distantly related LASV strains, potentiating the development of a broadly protective immunotherapeutic for LF. A LF immunotherapeutic could provide critical layers of protection for the warfighter, first responders, and personnel conducting research in the development of LF countermeasures. It could also be used to treat those suspected of being exposed both in the event of an intentional release and in public health settings.
Tulane University, the University of Texas Medical Branch/Galveston National Laboratory, and Zalgen Labs were recently awarded a 5-year, $5.8M NIH/NIAID Partnerships for Biodefense R01 grant for the development of “Antibody Immunotherapeutics for Biodefense Against Lassa Virus”. Zalgen plans to develop and market a first-in-class immunoprotective human antibody-based cocktail for prevention and treatment of Lassa fever.