The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has teamed up with the Pirbright Institute to develop vaccines against henipavirus – a group of viruses such as Nipah and Hendra viruses, which can cause severe respiratory and neurological diseases in humans through contact with infected animals.

As part of the research, funded by the Medical Research Council, scientists from the UKHSA will use a model of Nipah virus to evaluate vaccines developed by the Pirbright Institute.

The World Health Organization has identified Nipah as a priority disease that needs urgent research due to its potential for severe outbreaks. However, it is possible that a novel virus from the whole genus can emerge. Therefore, the aim of the collaboration is to develop a vaccine that provides cross protection against the whole genus of viruses, rather than specific ones.

In August 2023, the UKHSA launched the Vaccine Development Evaluation Centre (VDEC), whose key focus is on pathogens for which no vaccines exist or for which vaccines are not regulated in the country. There is no approved vaccine available for the Nipah virus.

Located at the Porton Down site of the UKHSA, over 200 scientists will work on almost 100 projects, facilitating the development of new vaccines by testing and assessing them against a range of threats that can lead to a health emergency. The facility will operate throughout the vaccine lifecycle, from product design to the assessment of effectiveness, as new variants emerge.

In the announcement accompanying the collaboration, project lead for Pirbright Dalan Bailey said: “Understanding whether vaccines for Nipah or other henipaviruses can provide cross-protection against related viruses is a really important first step in the development of broadly acting vaccines.

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This is especially important as we try to build more robust pandemic preparedness plans in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we are delighted to be working with UKHSA on this project.”

In January 2024, Oxford University in the UK initiated a first-in-human clinical trial to evaluate ChAdOx1 NipahB, a Nipah virus vaccine. Enrolling 51 individuals, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is providing funding for the trial.