Kenema Government Hospital
The Kenema Government Hospital is located 300km east of the capital Freetown, in Kenema, Eastern Province, Sierra Leone, an area with the highest incidence of Lassa Fever in the world. Sierra Leone endured a 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 and Ebola research in this region.
Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital/ACEGID
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). ISTH is located in Edo State, Nigeria where Lassa fever is endemic with yearly outbreaks.
In 2010, 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. Tulane provides both scientific (laboratory, clinical, and international) resources and contract management. Their facilities include fully equipped immunology and virology laboratories run by Drs. Garry and Schieffelin.
The Andersen Lab is using infectious disease genomics to investigate the interaction between the human host and highly pathogenic viruses such as Ebola and Lassa. Under the direction of Dr. Kristian Andersen, the goal of the lab is to understand how these viruses evolve and spread. Using a combination of computational biology, experimentation, and field work in West Africa, their hope is to change the way we develop vaccines and therapeutics for these and other emerging pathogens.
Also collaborating with the Consortium is Dr. Michael Oldstone, whose lab is interested in understanding the molecular basis of how viruses infect cells, how the immune response aborts viruses, and the mechanism of how such infections cause disease. Because viruses have different ‘lifestyles’, Dr. Oldstone’s studies focus on lessons taught primarily to three negative-strand viruses, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, Lassa, measles, and influenza viruses, and their interactions with the host’s immune, nervous, and pulmonary system.
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 and Ebola 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 large-scale sequencing of viral genomes commonly performed by VHFC.
Zalgen Labs, LLC
Zalgen Labs, LLC (Zalgen) was founded in 2011 and commenced operations in August 2013 at the Germantown Innovation Center, established by Maryland Economic Development Corporation, 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 fever and Ebola virus disease, aided by a consortium of academic, institutional, and biotechnology partners comprising the VHFC. These are revolutionizing the understanding of epidemiological, immunological, and basic research notions of Lassa fever, 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 Lassa fever, led Zalgen’s founders and VHFC partners to initiate development of first-in-class immunotherapeutic 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.
La Jolla Institute for Immunology
At La Jolla Institute for Immunology, Dr. Erica 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. 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.
University of Texas Medical Branch
Dr. Thomas Geisbert’s laboratory at University of Texas Medical Branch (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 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 hemorrhagic fever, Marburg hemorrhagic fever, 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.