Prof Robert Possee
Scientists are working on a new vaccine for Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) amid fears that the climate crisis could lead to the geographical spread of the potentially fatal virus.
Endemic to Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East and some Asian countries, CCHF is transmitted to humans via tick bites or contact with virus-infected livestock, and with a risk of human-to-human transmission.
Affected individuals experience intense flu-like symptoms that can progress to more serious effects including bleeding into the skin, kidney and liver failure, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Professor Linda King from vaccine development specialists Oxford Expression Technologies (OET) says: “With climate change, the geographical spread of the tick is increasing and there is concern of this disease coming into areas of southern Europe.” The UK also reported one case this year, which was caught overseas.
Founded in 2007, OET has created a baculovirus expression system and is using its protein expression platform technology to develop a specific CCHF vaccine with various collaborators. A Phase I trial is expected in the next few years. The project is funded as part of the UK Vaccine Network (UKVN) to develop vaccines for diseases with epidemic potential in developing countries.
While outbreaks of CCHF are not currently on the same scale of other notable virus diseases, the threat of a widespread epidemic remains, underlining the urgent need for an effective and affordable vaccine, explains OET CEO Professor Robert Possee.
CCHF has a mortality rate of up to 40% and those that do recover can be left with quite debilitating illness.
Professor King says: “It is a great unknown because all viruses have the potential to mutate and change and you never know if something may happen that makes it more transmissible.”
OET technology – which makes proteins in insect cells for vaccine development – has also been used for COVID vaccines, where collaboration was crucial to cut timelines and bureaucracy whilst maintaining rigorous processes.
“It demonstrated that if you have platform technologies that are trusted and proven, they can be harnessed relatively quickly to produce a vaccine,” she adds.