Researchers close in on human treatment for hendra and nipah viruses

Professor Thomas Geisbert
Professor Thomas Geisbert

Researchers are a step closer to effective human treatments against the deadly related viruses, nipah and hendra.

A human monoclonal antibody treatment which has already shown the ability to protect monkeys from deadly hendra infection has shown great promise against the related nipah virus.

The antibody therapy successfully provided protection against nipah in monkeys five days after infection.

The human monoclonal antibody known as m102.4 is the first effective antiviral treatment for nipah that has the potential for human therapeutic applications.

The research was conducted by an interdisciplinary research team from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and three groups within the National Institutes of Health.

Nipah and the closely related hendra virus from Australia are highly infectious agents that emerged from Pteropid fruit bats in the 1990s, causing serious disease outbreaks in a variety of domestic animals and humans in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh and India.

Recent nipah outbreaks have resulted in acute respiratory distress syndrome and encephalitis, person-to-person transmission and greater than 90 percent fatality rates among people. These properties make both nipah and hendra viruses a concern to human and livestock health.

Previous studies by the same researchers found that the patented m102.4 antibody therapy could protect non-human primates from a deadly hendra infection.

Dyed nipah virus as seen under an electron microscope.
Dyed nipah virus as seen under an electron microscope. Photo: Professor Thomas Geisbert

The group, in a paper published in the journal, Science Translational Medicine, describes the human monoclonal antibody therapy that protected non-human primates from disease at several time points after nipah exposure, including the onset of clinical illness in this lethal disease.

“What makes this study unique is that we have achieved complete protection against death even in animals that received treatment five days after being infected with the nipah virus when they otherwise would have succumbed within 8-10 days of infection,” said Professor Thomas Geisbert, first author of the paper.

He said the recent success of the antibody therapy against nipah virus disease in a non-human primate is a key step towards its development as a treatement for use in people.

Fellow senior author Christopher Broder, a professor at the Uniformed Services University, said there was sufficient interest for the Queensland Government to start a phase I clinical safety trial with m102.4 this year.

Other authors of this paper included Chad Mire, Joan Geisbert, Krystle Agans, Karla Fenton and Katharine Bossart from UTMB; Yee-Peng Chan from USU; and Friederike Feldmann, Zhongyu Zhu, Dimiter Dimitrov, Dana Scott and Heinz Feldmann from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The research was supported by the Department of Health and Human Services and the NIH.

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