MANHATTAN — The Center of Excellence for Emerging Zoonotic and Animal Diseases, or CEEZAD, at Kansas State University will use a $2.3 million federal grant to study the safety in livestock of a newly developed vaccine to protect humans from the Ebola Zaire virus.
The grant is from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in the U.S. Department of Defense through a collaboration with the commercial firm NewLink Genetics. A $100,000 matching contribution from the state of Kansas’ NBAF Transition Funds brings the total project funding to $2.4 million.
The university’s Biosecurity Research Institute will be used to conduct the project.
The vaccine is called VSV-ZEBOV, which is an acronym for Vesicular Stomatitis Virus-Zaire Ebola Virus. The virus can infect cattle and its clinical presentation is identical to the foot-and-mouth disease virus and the Zaire strain of Ebola virus — the main strain that causes the severe, often fatal, Ebola hemorrhagic fever disease in humans. The virus is thought to be transmitted to people from an as-yet unidentified wild animal reservoir, and then spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. The average disease case fatality rate is around 50 percent, but has varied from 25 percent to 90 percent in various outbreaks.
Jürgen Richt, regents distinguished professor at Kansas State University and director of the Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, will be the principal investigator for the project.
“We are very excited to begin research to test the safety of this vaccine, the only efficacious Ebola virus vaccine available,” Richt said. “As the world saw with the deadly 2014 outbreak in West Africa, Ebola is one of the most serious emerging zoonotic threats to humans.”
Richt also expressed appreciation for the contribution from the state’s NBAF fund for the work. NBAF stands for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, which is the nation’s premiere animal disease research facility that is currently under construction adjacent to the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan.
Zoonotic diseases are those capable of being transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. It is thought that Ebola virus, which was first identified in 1976, is introduced into the human population through close contact with infected animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, bats, monkeys, and maybe antelope and porcupines. It is also possible that the Ebola virus can be transmitted through sexual contact involving already-infected persons. The Zaire species of Ebola virus is one of five species that have been identified, and has been associated with large disease outbreaks in Africa — including the 2014 West African outbreak, which infected an estimated 28,600 people and resulted in more than 11,000 deaths.
No infectious Ebola virus will be used in the Biosecurity Research Institute during the studies. The work will provide information to supplement the overall safety of the VSV-ZEBOV vaccine.
The Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence established in 2010 at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.