GeoVax Labs, Inc. announced a collaboration with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (USNRL) to develop high-quality antibodies useful for detection of Lassa virus (LASV), and potentially as a treatment for Lassa Fever (LF).

Image/ C. S. Goldsmith, P. Rollin, M. Bowen This transmission electron micrograph (TEM) depicted numbers of Lassa virus virions adjacent to some cell debris. The virus, a member of the virus family Arenaviridae, is a single-stranded RNA virus, and is zoonotic, or animal-borne that can be transmitted to humans. The illness, which occurs in West Africa, was discovered in 1969 when two missionary nurses died in Nigeria, West Africa.In areas of Africa where the disease is endemic (that is, constantly present), Lassa fever is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality. While Lassa fever is mild or has no observable symptoms in about 80% of people infected with the virus, the remaining 20% have a severe multisystem disease. Lassa fever is also associated with occasional epidemics, during which the case-fatality rate can reach 50%. There are a number of ways in which the virus may be transmitted, or spread, to humans. The Mastomys rodents shed the virus in urine and droppings. Therefore, the virus can be transmitted through direct contact with these materials, through touching objects or eating food contaminated with these materials, or through cuts or sores. Because Mastomys rodents often live in and around homes and scavenge on human food remains or poorly stored food, transmission of this sort is common. Contact with the virus also may occur when a person inhales tiny particles in the air contaminated with rodent excretions. This is called aerosol or airborne transmission. Finally, because Mastomys rodents are sometimes consumed as a food source, infection may occur via direct contact when they are caught and prepared for food.
C. S. Goldsmith, P. Rollin, M. Bowen

Lassa Fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic illness caused by LASV. The U.S. Department of Defense has an interest in the early detection of the presence of LASV to better protect and treat troops that may be in areas where exposure may occur. Development of high quality antibodies useful for detection applications requires a high-quality vaccine. Currently, GeoVax’s LASV vaccine (GEO-LM01) represents the state of the art and is the best starting point for USNRL’s efforts to develop single domain antibodies that recognize LASV with high affinity and specificity. USNRL will utilize the GeoVax vaccine to immunize llamas, whose immune systems are uniquely suited for rapid and cost-effective production of single domain antibodies suitable for use in biosensor applications.

Farshad Guirakhoo, PhD, GeoVax’s Chief Scientific Officer, stated, “We are pleased to be working with Drs. Ellen Goldman and George Anderson at the USNRL on diagnostics and potential therapeutic aspects of our GEO-LM01 vaccine, as these are complementary to our ongoing collaborations with The Scripps Research Institute and the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland Medical School for development of a preventive vaccine against Lassa Fever.

GEO-LM01, has demonstrated single-dose 100% protection in a mouse challenge model, and is an excellent choice for inducing the specialized antibodies needed for an effective LASV biosensor. Single domain antibodies are an affordable version of monoclonal antibodies, can be produced in bacteria or yeasts in high quantities, can penetrate tissues rapidly, are able to cross blood brain barriers, and are resistant to extreme pH and temperature, making them ideal for biosensor applications and also potentially useful for development of therapies for LASV infections.”