A UCLA-led group of researchers may have found a vaccine against anthrax, plague and tularemia — three potent pathogens likely to be used in a bioterror attack, the university announced Thursday.
If found to be safe and effective in humans, the vaccine could protect people from all three lethal bacteria, the researchers said.
While there are no licensed vaccines for tularemia and plague, there is an anthrax vaccine which requires a burdensome immunization schedule and has severe side effects.
The UCLA team used molecular engineering to develop vaccines against each that use a common delivery method, or “single vector,” to carry protective antigens to the immune system. The findings were published May 3 in the journal Scientific Reports.
“Relying on currently available antibiotics to counter an intentional outbreak of anthrax, plague or tularemia is not a pragmatic public health plan — vaccines offer the only practical protection,” said Dr. Marcus Horwitz, the study’s senior author and a professor of medicine and of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
“Vaccines utilizing a single vector that could be administered concurrently and protect against all three pathogens would be more acceptable to people than multiple unrelated vaccines requiring different immunization schedules, and be less costly because they would be simpler to manufacture,” he said.
The researchers immunized laboratory mice with the three vaccines. Four to six weeks later, they administered lethal doses of anthrax, plague and tularemia bacteria by replicating the airborne method terrorists would be likely to use in an attack.
The vaccines — administered either through an injection or nasally — protected the mice against all three pathogens. Researchers tested various dosing schedules and found that a three-dose strategy worked well against all three pathogens.
The researchers then compared their new anthrax vaccine to the licensed anthrax vaccine. The one they developed was more effective, especially when administered via injection, than the existing vaccine, according to the study.