The Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) at the University of Pittsburgh has received two grants totaling $4.8 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a new vaccine strategy for dengue fever. A major public health issue worldwide, dengue fever is caused by a virus that is a close relative to West Nile virus. The award will allow researchers Ted M. Ross, Ph.D., assistant professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Donald S. Burke, M.D., professor and dean, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and CVR director, to improve survival outcomes for people infected with dengue fever.
“Our goal in this project is to generate a vaccine that will provide protection against all four of the different types of dengue virus worldwide,” said Dr. Ross. “A major problem in the development of effective dengue virus vaccines is the diverse strains of virus in circulation that do not readily offer cross protective immunity.”
Dengue virus is prevalent in tropical areas and transmitted by mosquitoes. It can be especially serious and potentially fatal in people who become infected with the virus from one type and get exposed to another type. Each year, tens of millions of cases of dengue fever occur. Hundreds of thousands of cases of the more severe dengue hemorrhagic fever occur with the case-fatality rate of about 5 percent. Most fatal cases are among children and young adults.
“The challenge is that when you try to mix vaccines, one is more dominant, so you haven’t helped the problem very much. A universal dengue vaccine will have resistance equally well to all four dengue serotypes,” Dr. Ross said.
Researchers at the Center for Vaccine Research are partnering with Novavax Inc., Rockville, Md., to provide a safe and effective vaccine.
“We are delighted to work with the University of Pittsburgh on this important medical need. Our expertise in virus-like particle vaccine technology will complement the disease expertise that the University of Pittsburgh brings to the collaboration. Together we will have a better chance to create an effective vaccine against dengue,” said Dr. Rahul Singhvi, president and chief executive officer, Novavax Inc.
“Few discoveries in biomedical research are as important as the development of vaccines against infectious agents, such as dengue, that pose risks to global health,” said Dr. Burke.