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New vaccine against tropical disease yellow fever to be tested

Clinical trial for OHSU’s HydroVax vaccine platform to start in 2020
man wearing blue shirt, in a laboratory, with arms crossed, looking at camera
Mark Slifka, Ph.D., who developed HydroVax at OHSU and is a professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, 2019. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

A hydrogen peroxide-based vaccine technology that’s already being tested to fight West Nile Virus will now also be studied to combat the tropical disease yellow fever.

Oregon Health & Science University spinoff Najít Technologies, Inc., of Beaverton, Oregon, will test a yellow fever version of the HydroVax vaccine platform it licensed from OHSU.

A $3.1-million grant from the National Institutes of Health to Najít will enable Duke University to lead the Phase 1 human clinical trial, and OHSU to study how trial participants’ immune systems respond to the yellow fever vaccine. The trial is expected to start in 2020 and take up to a year to complete.

While the current yellow fever vaccine has saved countless lives since it was developed in the 1930s, a small number of those who receive it experience unwanted side effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the live yellow fever vaccine can cause swelling of the brain, allergic reactions in those who are allergic to eggs, chicken proteins or gelatin, and internal organ dysfunction or failure. Infants, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people over 60 years of age are at increased risk for these negative reactions. Though such complications are rare, they are nonetheless potentially devastating.

“No one should have to risk severe or life-threatening disease in order to get vaccinated,” said Mark Slifka, Ph.D., who developed HydroVax at OHSU and is a professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center and president and chief science officer at Najít. “Our goal is to make vaccines as safe as possible.”

While many vaccines use live, but weakened versions of the virus they seek to fight, HydroVax uses hydrogen peroxide to effectively kill the virus while maintaining important surface structures. This tricks the immune system into believing it’s a live virus, which leads to a strong immune response without the risks associated with the current live yellow fever vaccine. A version of HydroVax designed to prevent West Nile Virus infection has already been tested in a Phase 1 clinical trial, which was also led by collaborators at Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute.

The yellow fever virus is transmitted through mosquito bites in Africa and South America. It can cause a range of symptoms such as fever, aches, liver disease, hemorrhaging, and, in 20 to 50% of serious cases, death. There is no treatment for yellow fever, making vaccination and prevention very important. The virus causes about 30,000 deaths annually.

The project’s collaborators include Emmanuel Benjamin Walter, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the Duke University School of Medicine and member of the Duke University Human Vaccine Institute, and Chris Woods, M.D., a professor of medicine and global health at the Duke University School of Medicine.

This research is supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (grant U44AI145791).

In the interest of ensuring the integrity of our research and as part of our commitment to public transparency, OHSU actively regulates, tracks and manages relationships that our researchers may hold with entities outside of OHSU. Review details of OHSU's conflict of interest program to find out more about how we manage these business relationships.

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