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The University of Oxford has launched a new clinical trial to test a vaccine against the deadly Nipah virus.

This is the first-in-human trial of the ChAdOx1 NipahB vaccine, being developed by researchers at the University's of Pandemic Sciences Institute - a research facility with a mission to discover, create and enable practical solutions to infectious disease threats worldwide. Fifty-one people aged 18 to 55 will participate in the trial, which is being led by the Oxford Vaccine Group within the Department for Paediatrics, and funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Nipah virus can be fatal in around 75% of cases. Outbreaks have occurred in South-East Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India, with a recent outbreak in Kerala, India in September 2023. The disease is carried by fruit bats and may also be transmitted by contact with infected animals (such as pigs) or from person-to-person via close contact.  

Nipah, which is recognised by the World Health Organization as a priority disease requiring urgent research, belongs to the same family of paramyxoviruses as more well-known pathogens like measles. Despite the first outbreaks of Nipah virus occurring 25 years ago in Malaysia and Singapore, there are currently no approved vaccines or treatments.

Professor Brian Angus, the trial’s Principal Investigator and Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Centre for Clinical Tropical Medicine and Global Health, said:

“Nipah virus was first identified in 1998, and yet 25 years on the global health community still has no approved vaccines or treatments for this devastating disease. Due to the high mortality rate and the nature of Nipah virus transmission, the disease is identified as a priority pandemic pathogen. This vaccine trial is an important milestone in identifying a solution that could prevent local outbreaks occurring, while also helping the world prepare for a future global pandemic.”

Dr In-Kyu Yoon, Acting Executive Director of Vaccine Research & Development at CEPI, one of the leading global funders of Nipah virus research, said: 

“Nipah has epidemic potential, with its fruit bat hosts found in areas home to over two billion people. This trial is a step forward in efforts to build a suite of tools to protect against this killer virus. Knowledge gained could also inform development of other Paramyxovirus countermeasures.”

The project will run over the next 18 months, with further trials expected to follow in a Nipah-affected country.