A team of research experts from the Hendra Virus Taskforce say Queensland volunteers who have put their hand up to join the fight against Hendra virus will have the thanks of the entire community.
Queensland’s Department of Health has been granted approval to begin testing a monoclonal antibody against the Hendra virus on human volunteers this year.
The approval follows the announcement in late 2013 of a $1.2 million state and federal grant to fund a human clinical safety trial.
The human trials will be run at the Q-Pharm clinics at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and will be supervised by renowned Hendra virus specialist Dr Geoffrey Playford from the Princess Alexandra Hospital.
“The human monoclonal antibody m102.4 was developed for the treatment of Hendra virus infection in people,” Dr Playford said.
“To date, the antibody has only ever been used on compassionate grounds in eleven people.
“Of these patients, 10 survived but there was insufficient information to determine whether the use of the monoclonal antibody influenced this outcome which is why further research is required.
“Based on our research to date, we expect the monoclonal antibody to prevent a person becoming infected following contact with an infected horse and to improve their chances of survival if they have already become infected.
“The screening process to recruit 40 suitable volunteers for the human trials began late last month.
We require healthy men and women aged between 18 and 50 for the trial and, at this stage, our volunteer numbers are looking good.”
A monoclonal antibody is a laboratory-produced molecule that’s carefully engineered to attach to specific defects in a targeted cell – in this case a Hendra virus cell.
Dr Playford said monoclonal antibodies mimicked the antibodies the human body naturally produced as part of the immune system’s response to germs, vaccines and other invaders.
“Almost like an intelligent missile, the monoclonal antibody is designed to seek out Hendra virus cells,” Dr Playford said.
“The antibody is designed to attach to part of the Hendra virus, thereby alerting the body’s immune system to the virus’s presence and marking it for destruction.
“The main objective of the study is to evaluate the safety and tolerability of the Hendra virus monoclonal antibody m102.4.
“Basically, we want to find out how the antibody makes people feel and whether there are any side effects.
“The trial will also determine the amount of antibody in a person’s blood at various times during the study and the effect it has on the immune system.”
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said testing the monoclonal antibody on humans would see the state move one step closer to protecting those at high risk of developing Hendra virus following contact with an infected horse.
“Right from the beginning this trial has been an excellent example of collaboration in health research,” Dr Young said.
“This trial would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of Queensland Health, the Queensland and New South Wales Intergovernmental Hendra Virus Taskforce, The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), QPharm, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory, American Hendra virus expert Dr Chris Broder, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Henry M Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine and the Alister Rodgers Memorial Fund.”
Director of AIBN Professor Peter Gray said the trial’s journey began back in 2010 when
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer obtained a licence from the US Department of Defence, to produce the experimental antibody called m102.4.
“The m102.4 monoclonal antibody cell line was originally obtained for the purpose of producing and stockpiling the m102.4 human monoclonal antibody for human compassionate use in cases of Hendra virus exposure,” Prof. Gray said.
“Our experts at UQ’s AIBN have worked very hard to produce the m102.4 monoclonal antibody. It’s now exciting to think that, with human trials being approved in compliance with international guidelines, we are that much closer to saving infected people’s lives.”
Since 1994, there have been 52 incidents of Hendra virus in horses in Australia with 14 in NSW and 38 in Queensland. A total of 90 horses have died from the Hendra virus during this period.
To date there have been seven cases of Hendra Virus infection in humans resulting in four deaths.
All cases of human infection have occurred in Queensland.
For more information on the trial, go to www.hendrastudy.com.au