News Feature | December 23, 2014

Researchers Discover New Antibodies Paving Way For Universal Dengue Vaccine

By C. Rajan, contributing writer

A team of international researchers has made an important discovery that could lead to the development of the first universal dengue vaccine. The researchers, including groups from Australia, Vietnam, and London, have discovered a major new class of antibodies that neutralises all four different types of the deadly dengue virus.

Co-author of the study, Dr. Cameron Simmons, professor at University of Melbourne, said, "There is an urgent need to reduce incidence of people suffering dengue and to understand the human immune response to infection and the response following vaccination. This unique discovery makes the future development of vaccines that could prevent the spread of the disease a realistic goal and may also pave the way for a universal dengue virus vaccine,"

Dengue fever or “breakbone fever” is a mosquito-borne disease that causes high fever, a bad headache, and extreme pain in joints and bones. In severe forms of the disease, patients develop hemorrhagic fever that leads to severe bleeding and organ failure. Left untreated, the severe form of dengue is fatal in about 20 percent of the cases. According to the WHO estimates, approximately 400 million people suffer from dengue fever every year.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, and it has been challenging to develop a dengue vaccine as there are four major viruses that can cause different types of dengue fever.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Gavin Screaton, professor at Imperial College London, said, "Without a vaccine, it's unlikely that this disease will ever be controlled."

To develop a vaccine that can fight all dengue viruses at once, the researchers got blood samples from patients who were infected with the virus. Then they analyzed a large group of anti-dengue antibodies from the blood samples and found a new class of antibodies that were highly effective at neutralizing the virus.

The researchers have also figured out that the antibodies work by attaching to a “weak spot” on the virus' surface. The next step is to build a vaccine that triggers these antibodies against the dengue virus, and the researchers say they can use this weak spot, which is made of two viral proteins, to help make the vaccine.

The researchers warn that it could take years to develop and test the vaccine in people. Imperial College has filed a patent for this discovery, but it may license or sell its intellectual property, Bloomberg reports.

Several pharmaceutical companies have been racing to launch the world’s first dengue vaccine, however, these vaccines do not effectively fight all four forms of the dengue virus. Sanofi’s vaccine is the most advanced in development and is expected to enter the market by second half of 2015. Other companies like Takeda and Merck also have potential vaccine candidates that may enter the market in the next year or two.

The study was published in the journal Nature Immunology, titled, "A new class of highly potent, broadly neutralizing antibodies isolated from viremic patients infected with dengue virus."