Melioidosis might not be a well-known tropical disease, but the US Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded funding to a fledgling vaccine formulation company VitriVax to develop a one-shot vaccine to protect against it.

With $29m in funding, the US DoD has specifically tasked VitriVax with converting a three-dose vaccine candidate that protects against Burkholderia pseudomallei (B. pseudomallei) – the causative pathogen of melioidosis –into a single-shot jab.

VitriVax will use its Atomic Layering Thermostable Antigen and Adjuvant (ALTA) thermostabilisation platform to develop the single shot.  

The funding from the DoD to VitriVax is part of a wider research proposal to develop single-shot vaccines for melioidosis and glanders, a disease caused by B. mallei in certain animals. The funding is part of a five-year contract that was awarded to US-based VitriVax by the DoD’s United States Defence Threat Reduction Agency.

B. pseudomallei, a gram-negative pathogen commonly found in South-East Asia and northern Australia, is spread via the respiratory system and causes the highly infectious disease melioidosis. Currently, there are no vaccines that protect against melioidosis. Without treatment, 90% of people who contract the disease die. Whilst an antibiotic course can help survival chances, B. pseudomallei is resistant to many drugs.

There has also been long-existing concern that the bacterium could be used for nefarious purposes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists B. pseudomallei as a Category B agent in a classification of bioterrorism agents or diseases.

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VitriVax’s operations vice-president and principal investigator Kimberly D Erickson said: “We are excited about the opportunity to partner with DTRA and researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, to bring our technology to a class of vaccines that will benefit both military personnel and the general population in regions where the disease is endemic.”