The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has said it is hopeful that a vaccine to tackle Lassa fever could be available by 2030. This was shared at an ongoing workshop with West African researchers to discuss the progress of a Lassa fever research study known as the Enable Lassa Research Programme.
The director of epidemiology at CEPI, Dr. Gabrielle Breugelmans gave the assurance on Monday in Abuja, at the workshop co-hosted with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (NCDC), Africa CDC and CEPI for scientists from across West Africa.
Breugelmans said that following the successful completion of phases I and II trials by 2023 as currently expected, vaccine candidates could head into late-stage trials in the coming years to assess their efficacy.
“This is where scientists will discover whether people in the clinical trial who got vaccinated with the Lassa vaccine were less likely to develop the disease compared to people who got the placebo shot,” she explained.
She said that CEPI is also strengthening vaccine manufacturing capabilities on the African continent to improve equitable access to vaccines, noting that it is a critical part of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and the continent’s collective security.
The CEPI director said that as a leading funder of Lassa vaccine development, CEPI is supporting the development of six Lassa vaccine candidates.
“Data provided from the Enable research programme will guide the location and implementation of future late-stage efficacy trials to evaluate these or other Lassa vaccine candidates.
“It will help us to define an appropriate vaccination strategy once a Lassa vaccine is approved for use, for example by helping to identify priority populations at risk,” the director explained.
She said that the research would also support another goal in CEPI’s five-year plan assisting countries with developing the infrastructure and expertise to undertake the epidemiological and clinical studies needed to advance vaccine development and enable such countries to take full ownership of their national health security.
Breugelmans pointed out that the Enable study has, so far, enabled countries and the global community to better understand the rate, location and spread of the Lassa virus across the region.
“Data collected in the countries will highlight any differences in the age and gender of people who become infected, while also providing a more accurate overview on the proportion of asymptomatic and symptomatic cases,” she said.
According to her, the pathogen has been on CEPI’s target list since its launch in 2017, with the coalition establishing itself as one of the largest funders of Lassa fever research.
Breugelmans stated that CEPI would continue to support its Lassa vaccine partners and monitor progress as vaccine candidates make their way through clinical trials.
In his remarks, the Programme Steering Committee (PSC) chair of the Enable Lassa Research Programme and principal investigator of the Enable site, Guinea, Dr. N’Faly Magassouba said that Lassa fever outbreaks continue to occur with worrying regularity.
Magassouba said the Enable Lassa Research Programme is working hard to ensure a vaccine is developed against this potentially deadly pathogen.
“The Enable Lassa Research Programme has brought together north-to-south and south-to-south research collaborations under an umbrella,” he said.
Magassouba said that the research has enrolled up to 23,000 participants, including Nigeria which began collecting participants’ data in December 2020.
Also speaking, national coordinator, Enable study in Nigeria, Prof Bola Olayinka said the disease is endemic in parts of West Africa, but recent modelling data suggested that climate change could cause Lassa fever to spread across Africa continent.
“Current knowledge about the annual burden of clinical Lassa fever is hindered by a lack of formal and standard clinical diagnoses for the illness and variability in symptoms.
“To address this knowledge gap, Enable partners will carry out assessments, including follow-up of study participants through in-person visits by health workers or via phone calls, to obtain accurate estimates of the population-level incidence of Lassa fever,” she explained.
Olayinka said that NCDC is leading the Nigerian component of Enable alongside other key partners.
“All Enable partners are using a core protocol and methods to allow for standardised assessments and comparable datasets across the countries,” she said.