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Japan scientists win backing for work on potential Nipah vaccine

LONDON (Reuters) – A global coalition set up to fight emerging epidemics has struck a $31 million deal with scientists at Japan’s University of Tokyo to speed up work on a vaccine against a brain-damaging disease caused by the Nipah virus.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said the Tokyo University team would receive up to $31 million to advance the development and manufacturing of a shot for the bat-borne disease.

Nipah virus was first identified in 1999 during an outbreak of illness affecting pig farmers and others in close contact with pigs in Malaysia and Singapore. More than 100 people died in that outbreak, and about a million pigs were killed to try to halt its spread.

Nipah is transmitted to humans via direct contact with infected bats, infected pigs or other infected people.

At least 17 people were killed in an outbreak of Nipah in India last year in which 19 cases were reported – giving a case fatality rate of 90 percent.

CEPI, which was set up at the start of 2017, aims to dramatically speed up the development of vaccines against new and unknown diseases – collectively known as Disease X.

“There is an urgent need for accelerated research and development for the Nipah virus,” Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Not only is the case fatality rate for this disease high … there is a serious risk (it) could become a threat to global health security.”

Nipah is on the World Health Organization’s research and development “priority pathogen” list alongside Ebola, Zika, MERS, Lassa and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever.

The Tokyo team’s experimental vaccine is designed using a weakened measles viral vaccine with Nipah virus genes inserted into it.

CEPI said its funding would support advancement of the potential vaccine candidate through mid-stage trials in humans, with a view to its being manufactured and stockpiled for investigational use.

Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Peter Cooney

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