Rabies is still responsible for approximately 60,000 human deaths per year mostly in Asia and Africa and affects especially underserved people. Yet, since the first vaccine developed by Louis Pasteur more than 130 years ago, prophylactic measures have significantly improved. They are now composed of the vaccine allied to purified human or equine rabies immunoglobulins. However, these immunoglobulins are expensive and not easy to reach in developing settings.

Rabies virus
Image/CDC

Researchers from the Structural Virology Unit at the Institut Pasteur, in collaboration with the Virus and Immunity Unit and the Lyssavirus Epidemiology and Neuropathology Unit, have visualized one of the most potent and most broadly neutralizing human monoclonal antibody in interaction with the rabies glycoprotein. This finding makes it possible to propose new avenues, both prophylactic and therapeutic, in the fight against rabies.

Rabies is a lethal encephalitis due to a lyssavirus mainly transmitted to humans by the bite or scratches of terrestrial carnivores (principally domestic dogs). The onset of clinical symptoms and death can be 100% prevented by adequate post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) including vaccines and passive immunization using rabies immunoglobulins. Today, 15 to 29 million of patients exposed to rabies received the PEP each year whose terms have been updated by WHO in 2018 as a result of Institut Pasteur expertise.

“If prevention measures therefore exist today to fight rabies, supply and demand are incoherent in developing countries. The proposed treatments are not produced or not available on site” explains Félix Rey, head of the Structural Virology Unit at the Institut Pasteur.

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