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Fast Track for Chickungunya Vaccine, Promising T-Cell Panfilovirus Vaccine

Magnification of avian Influenza A (H5N1) virions at 108,000x. Credit: CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith; Jackie Katz

See what we’re reading this week at Global Biodefense on topics including a pan-filovirus T-cell vaccine, bird flu transmissibility gain-of-function research debate, and fast-tracking a chikungunya vaccine.

POLICY + PRACTICES

Studies of deadly flu virus, once banned, are set to resume

The lack of information about the decision and how it was made have provoked outrage from some scientists, who oppose the research because they say it could create mutant viruses that might cause deadly pandemics if they were unleashed by lab accidents or terrorism. The research sparked worldwide fears when it was first revealed in 2011. NY Times

Scared of the dark risks: Gain-of-function research of concern

The most translatable outcomes to justify GOF research were suggested to be the creation of new antivirals, vaccines, improved surveillance and help for public health experts to better understand how viruses might spread. Antivirals, based on newly identified changes to the proteins may be a possible benefit, should the mutant virus ever evolve naturally. But commercial interests won’t go through the process to make a drug they can only sell if an H5N1 virus mutates in this specific way. Better vaccines? Simply put, vaccines don’t need this information. We are already limping toward having universal Flu vaccines. Surveillance that identifies the emergence of a new pandemic influenza won’t come from these studies. It continues with or without them. Pandemic plans won’t be drawn up based on these studies either. Public health experts already know enough about how respiratory viruses spread to enact their plans. Virology Down Under

Why Doctors Without Borders is suspending work in the Ebola epicenter in Congo

The move comes after two separate attacks on its treatment centers there. The organization says, at best, it will be weeks before it returns. “When I send my teams I need to be sure that they are going to come back alive,” says Emmanuelle Massart, the on-the-ground emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in the region. “The attacks were really, really violent.” NPR

Arizona lawmakers consider loosening vaccination requirements

The bills would require that doctors, before giving kids their shots, hand over to parents a daunting stack of papers which discuss vaccine risks and ingredients. Another bill would make it even easier for Arizona parents to opt out and would establish a new type of exemption based on religion. The chair of the House health committee, Republican Nancy Barto, is sponsoring the bills. NPR

Application of the Incident Command System to the hospital biocontainment unit setting

To provide effective treatment for infected patients while providing safety for the community, a series of 10 high-level isolation units have been created across the country; they are known as Regional Ebola and Special Pathogen Treatment Centers (RESPTCs). The activation of a high-level isolation unit is a highly resource-intensive activity, with effects that ripple across the healthcare system. The incident command system (ICS), a standard tool for command, control, and coordination in domestic emergencies, is a command structure that may be useful in a biocontainment event. A version of this system, the hospital emergency incident command system, provides an adaptable all-hazards approach in healthcare delivery systems. Here the authors describe its utility in an operational response to safely care for a patients infected with a high-consequence pathogen on a high-level isolation unit. Health Security

OUTBREAK NEWS + THREAT SURVEILLANCE

Why does Ebola keep spreading in Congo? Here’s a major clue

As cases started erupting around two towns, Katwa and Butembo, the investigators found that patient after patient had something else in common: They had all recently visited a health clinic for treatment for some other disease such as a respiratory infection or malaria. When ground response teams started visiting the clinics, it was pretty obvious how this was happening: Even government-run facilities such as large hospitals hadn’t set up triage tents to separate possible Ebola patients from everyone else. NPR

Case report on fatal community-acquired Bacillus cereus pneumonia

Some isolates of B. cereus can cause anthrax-like fulminant necrotizing pneumonia in immunocompetent patients. If this type of B. cereus were used as a means of bioterrorism, it may be quite difficult to recognize as bioterrorism. In this rare case presentation, the patient was immunocompetent and asymptomatic until onset. Additionally, the environmental background of infection is totally different from those of previous reports. BMC Infectious Diseases

Travelers at Midway Airport last week may have been exposed to measles

An Illinois resident who was unvaccinated and infectious arrived in Concourse B of the Chicago airport on Feb. 22. Those infected by measles may not develop symptoms for weeks. Symptoms such as rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes could develop as late as March 20. The state Health Department recommends contacting a health care provider before going in person, allowing them to make plans for an evaluation that keeps other patients and medical staff from becoming infected. Chicago Tribune

Legionnaires’ disease on the rise, experts not sure why

Cases of Legionnaires’ disease have quadrupled in Georgia over the past 10 years, public health statistics show. That increase mirrors a national trend, with U.S. cases up fivefold since 2000. About 80 percent of Georgia outbreaks have occurred in health care facilities, according to Cherie Drenzek, a state epidemiologist. Legionella bacteria live in water, and are found naturally in lakes and streams. But they can be dangerous and lethal when they grow in man-made water systems, eventually finding their way into showerheads and sink faucets, where they become aerosolized. Athens Banner-Herald

MEDICAL COUNTERMEASURES

Pan-filovirus T-cell vaccine protects mice from Ebola and Marburg

Developing an effective vaccine against filovirus outbreaks is an important public health aim. Vaccine candidates being developed for a small number of filoviruses that most commonly cause outbreaks all employ the virus glycoprotein as the vaccine immunogen, which triggers a protective immune response. However, antibodies induced by such glycoprotein vaccines are typically limited to the other members of the same filovirus species. By contrast, T-cell vaccines offer the possibility to design a single pan-filovirus vaccine that protects against all known and even likely existing, but as yet un-encountered, members of the filovirus family. Science Daily

Novel mifepristone analogues with increased activity against Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus

We previously showed that mifepristone has anti-VEEV activity and only limited cytotoxicity but a limitation in its use is its abortifacient activity resulting from its ability to antagonize the progesterone receptor. Here we generate a suite of new mifepristone analogues with enhanced antiviral properties, succeeding in achieving >11-fold improvement in anti-VEEV activity with no detectable increase in toxicity. Nature

Themis Bioscience receives FDA Fast Track designation for chikungunya vaccine candidate

The program is the most advanced Chikungunya vaccine candidate and has already successfully completed Phase 2 clinical development with results recently published in The Lancet. MV-CHIK is the first candidate from Themis’ immunomodulation platform based on the measles vector, one of the safest and most efficacious vaccines available, and has already been tested in over 600 study volunteers in the US, EU and Central America. BioSpace

SPECIAL INTEREST

Tom Daschle takes to the classroom to discuss the future of biodefense

The former Democratic Senator from South Dakota and current member of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel for Biodefense joined 25 Schar School students and the director of the biodefense master’s, graduate certificate, and PhD programs, Gregory Koblentz, for a discussion followed by a question-and-answer session. The talk was Daschle’s first conversation regarding biodefense with a classroom of students interested in the field, he said. GMU Schar School

Colonialists are coming for blood—literally

Developing nations have protested before that richer countries and their corporations should compensate them for their biological resources. They consider it colonialism for the bioprospecting age. They provide the raw material for diagnostics or remedies made by Western companies and those products may be unaffordable to the countries where the samples originated. Wired

A wildly popular video game is adding anti-vaxxers in the next deadly plague

There’s never been a video game anti-hero quite like Plague Inc. – in this massively successful pandemic simulator, you actually play the role of a deadly and contagious pathogen, hell-bent on wiping humanity off the face of the planet. Now, in response to public demand via an ongoing petition at Change.org, this wildly popular plague game is going to incorporate a new menace in its chilling disease-spreading simulations: anti-vaxxers. Science Alert

Bacillus anthracis - Sterne strain

Replacing BioWatch, Ebola Returns to Beni, RiVax Patent Expansion

Disease Detectives Investigate Plague Outbreak

Attack on Ebola Treatment Center, Marburg Virus Vaccine Funding, Mumps Outbreak