SINGAPORE — US biotechnology company Moderna on Tuesday (12 July) announced that it has dosed the first participant in the Phase 1 trial of its Nipah virus vaccine candidate based on breakthrough messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology.
The Phase 1 trial is the first study of the candidate, mRNA-1215, in healthy adults to evaluate the Nipah virus mRNA vaccine, said Moderna. There is currently no Nipah virus vaccine approved for humans, and treatment is limited to supportive care.
The deadly virus can be transmitted to humans from infected animals – mainly pigs and bats – contaminated food, or directly between infected people.
The first human cases occurred in a zoonotic outbreak between September 1998 and June 1999 in Malaysia and Singapore.
While no new cases have been reported in Singapore or Malaysia since then, it has regularly spilled over from animals to humans, with outbreaks recorded almost annually in some parts of Asia.
The pathogen can cause rapidly progressive illness, including acute respiratory infection and encephalitis, which can lead to a coma or death. Some symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches and pain, vomiting, and sore throat, followed by dizziness, drowsiness, altered consciousness, seizures, and coma in more severe cases.
An estimated 40 per cent to 75 per cent of people infected with Nipah virus die as a result of infection. In comparison, the more transmissible COVID-19 has a fatality rate of about 2 per cent.
Because of its high pandemic potential, the virus is listed as a high-priority pathogen by the World Health Organization, said Moderna.
The vaccine candidate was developed in collaboration with the Vaccine Research Center, a division of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
"Since Nipah virus is a deadly pathogen for which there is currently no vaccine or treatment, Moderna is eager to bring our mRNA expertise to this partnership with the hope of halting the virus’ pandemic potential to protect the health of our global citizens,” said its chief executive officer Stéphane Bancel.
Moderna is one of two companies – the other being Pfizer – that have developed COVID-19 vaccines with mRNA technology.
Vaccines based on the technology teach a body's cells to make copies of the coronavirus' spike protein in order to trigger an immune response. These mRNA vaccines have been widely used in global efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and are believed to provide greater protection compared with non-mRNA vaccines.
Moderna and Pfizer are developing updated vaccines to target the fast-spreading Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which have gained a foothold globally, including in Singapore, over recent weeks.
Meanwhile, China's Walvax Biotechnology's mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate, ARCoV, is still being clinically trialled.
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