Heinz Feldmann on Marburg

Heinz Feldmann, head of the Level 4 labs at the National Microbiology Laboratory of the Public Health Agency of Canada, was in town this week to give a couple of talks on the Marburg virus.  He just returned from field work in Uige, the center of the current outbreak.

Here are a few notes:

  • There are claims that up to 80% of the highland Gorillas in the area have been felled by Ebola, but Feldmann expressed some skepticism and noted that none of the cases had been lab confirmed.  Evidently, there is  discussion of using experimental vaccines in the Gorillas to try to preserve the population.  This is more than can be done for the humans, because the vaccines have yet to undergo even safety testing.
  • Feldmann and others are working on vaccines for Marburg and Ebola, and adenovirus vectors don't work very well due to extensive seroprevalence in the population of neutralizing antibodies.
  • However, his lab is using VSV as a vector and this is working extremely well in monkeys.  When the GP protein from Marburg is included in VSV Virus Like Particles (VLPs), 100% of monkeys survive exposure with cross strain protection, including the "POP" strain thought to have been weaponized by the Soviets.  Ebola is a slightly different story, with 100% protection for any given strain, slightly less protection across strains, and zero cross species protection.

I am increasingly interested in the possibility of VLPs as the foundation of a synthetic and distributed vaccine production infrastructure.  Ralph Baric was in town a few weeks ago, and he said he was having success with VLP vaccines for Noroviruses.  So your next ocean cruise could well be diarrhea free.