NATO funds major International Anthrax project lead by Cardiff
5 September 2012
Prof. Baillie-and colleagues at CPHRL Tbilisi, Georgia
l-r - Prof Les Baillie (Cardiff Univ), Dr Rebecca Ingrams, (Queen's Univ. Belfast), Dr Nino Tradaidze (CPHRL Georgia), Prof Mehmet Doganay, (Ercisyes Univ. Turkey), Dr Hugh Dyson, (DSTL Porton Down UK)
The NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme recently funded a programme of research entitled “A Multi-Task investigation on the human immune response to anthrax aimed at developing more efficient vaccines” aims to tackle the menace posed by anthrax. The project, lead by Prof Baillie of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is a multi-national collaboration between researchers from Georgia, Turkey, the US and the UK (Queens Belfast and Cardiff University).
As part of this three project researchers from Georgia will travel to Cardiff and Belfast for training.
The following institutions are involved;
National Center for Disease Control, Tbilisi, Georgia,
Central Public Health Reference Laboratory, Tbilisi, Georgia
Cardiff School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Cardiff University, UK
Faculty of Medicine, Ercisyes University, Kayseri, Turkey
Centre for Infection & Immunity, Queens University, Belfast, UK
Defence Science Technology Laboratory, Porton Down, Wiltshire, UK
United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, MD, USA
Background on the science
Anthrax, caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, is primarily a disease of animals which occasionally infects humans either directly through contact with infected animals and their products or indirectly as a consequence of bioterrorism. Currently the majority of the world’s population is susceptible to infection with anthrax. Indeed the US postal attacks in 2001 highlighted the vulnerability of the civilian population and brought home the need to develop effective, rapid, robust medical countermeasures against the threat posed by terrorist use of this organism.
It is concern over the threat posed by bioterrorism that has prompted authorities to enhance their efforts to develop more effective vaccines and medical countermeasures. These efforts have been hampered by the fact that cases of naturally acquired human infection are rare and foci of infection tend to occur in areas of the world were subsistence agriculture is the primary economic activity. As a consequence researchers have been forced to employ animal models to underpin the development and efficacy testing of new vaccines. Indeed the paucity of human cases has made it impossible to perform the standard phase III clinical trials required of any new vaccine in which its effectiveness is confirmed in an at risk human population. As a consequence the US Food and Drug Administration has introduced the “Animal Rule” in which both the mode of action and efficacy of vaccines must usually be demonstrated in two different well characterized animal species that model the human response to immunisation and infection.
There is a fundamental problem with this approach when applied to anthrax in that very little is known about how the human immune system responds to infection with this organism. Anthrax is endemic in the Caucasus and as a consequence our colleagues in Georgia and Turkey see several hundred human cases a year. In addition colleagues in Georgia who are at risk of infection are vaccinated with a live spore human anthrax vaccine which is thought to stimulate the hosts immune response in a manner more akin to infection. Indeed while this vaccine may stimulate a robust immune response to the pathogen concerns over potential residual virulence, particularly for immuno-compromised individuals, has limited it use in other countries.
These unique resources, combined with the expertise of NATO researchers from the UK and US, offers an unparalleled opportunity to address the issues raised above. The outputs of this study are expected to underpin the development of future vaccines capable of conferring broad-spectrum, robust protection following minimal dosing. Such vaccines would impact on two levels, locally they would directly improve the life of workers at risk of contracting anthrax in an occupational setting, and globally they would contribute to the protection of citizens of NATO and partner countries against the use of anthrax as an agent of bio-terrorism. An additional benefit of this effort would be capacity building in order to facilitate the establishment of a centre of immunological expertise capable of supporting infectious disease research across all countries in the region.