ICMR considers developing vaccine against Nipah | Latest News India

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is considering developing a vaccine against the Nipah virus, as part of a larger plan to develop a bouquet of essential vaccines.

Security personnel patrol near a deserted Kozhikode beach after restrictions were imposed by the district administration in Kozhikode, in India's southern state of Kerala on September 18, 2023 (AFP)
Security personnel patrol near a deserted Kozhikode beach after restrictions were imposed by the district administration in Kozhikode, in India’s southern state of Kerala on September 18, 2023 (AFP)

The Nipah vaccine, especially, may come in handy given recurring outbreaks of the illness caused by the virus in Kerala.

“We are thinking about new vaccines such as a vaccine against Nipah. However, it is not going to be easy as the work would require looking for partners—who can make it, and on which platform considering there are a number of platforms available now that were utilised for vaccines against Covid,” said Rajiv Bahl, director general, ICMR.

“Our biggest asset at the moment is that we have developed vaccines on diverse platforms such — DNA vaccine, mRNA vaccine, adenoviral vector vaccine, protein subunit vaccine, and nasal vaccine — and we can use these diverse platforms also to develop newer vaccines against diseases such as Nipah, which is required,” he added.

Bahl also underlined the challenges that developing a vaccine against Nipah will pose that include commercial viability.

“There will be hindrances in developing a vaccine against Nipah that we are well aware of which won’t be there in developing vaccines against a disease like dengue as it would have a large market. Everyone would be willing to collaborate with us to develop a vaccine against dengue but for Nipah or Kyasanur forest disease, for example, (required) doses will be fewer in volume as there won’t be many buyers. For KFD it will be not more than two lakh and for Nipah it would be even less making it not very viable . It will be manufactured purely in national interest,” he explained.

Kyasanur forest disease, named after a region of Karnataka is a viral haemorrhagic disease, transmitted by ticks, which affects humans and monkeys.

Bahl added that everything is still at the planning stage, making it premature to dwell on technical details.

The US’ National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced last year that it has launched early stage clinical trial of mRNA Nipah virus vaccine.

According to an NIH statement from last year, the experimental vaccine is manufactured by Moderna, Inc. and was developed in collaboration with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’s (NIAID) Vaccine Research Center. It is based on a messenger RNA (mRNA) platform—a technology used in several approved COVID-19 vaccines. NIAID is sponsoring the Phase 1 clinical study, which is being conducted at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Interestingly, NIH made a stronger case for a Nipah vaccine.

“Nipah virus poses a considerable pandemic threat because it mutates relatively easily, causes disease in a wide range of mammals, can transmit from person-to-person, and kills a large percentage of the people it infects,” said Anthony S Fauci, then NIAID director, in the statement. “The need for a preventive Nipah virus vaccine is significant.”

Nipah virus infection is a zoonotic disease that spreads between animals and people. Fruit bats are the natural host for the virus. The virus can cause mild-to-severe disease rapidly progressing from respiratory infection symptoms to encephalitis (brain swelling) leading to coma or death. An estimated 40- 75% of people infected with Nipah virus die. Although most cases are transmitted via animals, person-to-person transmission can occur.

Currently, there is no licensed vaccine or treatment for Nipah virus infection.

ICMR’s National Institute of Virology in Pune is conducting whole genome sequencing of the virus to know which variant is in circulation in Kerala. “The first test was conducted on September 12; therefore, it will take some time for the sequencing results to return,”Bahl said added.

In absence of a vaccine against Nipah and high infectivity and mortality, Bahl said that taking precautions is the best option. He advised people to follow social distancing and also wear masks.

“Ways to avoid infection is same as that followed during the Covid pandemic. Masking is important. Wash your hands and maintain personal hygiene. Also, it is most important to avoid exposure to bodily fluids of an infected patient and observe biosafety or hospital safety measures. And if symptoms are identified, isolate. Stay away from raw food that could be exposed to bats. And stay away from bat colonies,” he added.

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