Le Lézard
Classified in: Ebola virus, Health, Covid-19 virus
Subjects: NPT, TRI

Texas Biomed researching vaccines and treatments for highly pathogenic avian influenza

SAN ANTONIO, April 18, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- Researchers at Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) are studying potential vaccines, antivirals and antibodies against highly pathogenic avian influenza, including H5N1 strains that closely mirror the one recently detected in cows, chickens and one person in Texas.

Texas Biomed has a team of virologists and immunologists with experience studying highly pathogenic avian influenza.

This is only the second human case of H5N1 bird flu to be reported in the United States, which officials said was contracted through contact with dairy cows. The influenza subtype primarily infects wild birds and poultry, but has also spilled over into a variety of mammals. This is the first time the avian influenza A(H5N1) virus has been detected in cattle.

"Thankfully, the risk of the current H5N1 case becoming widespread among people remains low," said Larry Schlesinger, M.D., Texas Biomed President and CEO. "But viruses adapt and evolve ? especially influenza viruses ? which is why it is so critical to be studying them and developing vaccines and treatments well before they are needed."

Texas Biomed has a team of virologists and immunologists with deep experience studying influenza viruses and very recently expanded its research scope to include highly pathogenic avian influenza. Researchers in Professor Luis Martinez-Sobrido, Ph.D.'s laboratory received approval to work on highly pathogenic avian influenza in November 2023 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After lab preparations and review, work began at the end of March to begin evaluating if existing vaccines, antivirals and antibodies are effective against avian influenza A(H5N1) viruses, including the strain now making headlines.

Since first being detected in 1996, there have been fewer than 900 cases of human bird flu infections reported around the world. Infection can cause a range of symptoms from mild to severe, with a fatality rate of about 50%.

This version of avian influenza A(H5N1) has been spreading around the globe in the past few years via transmission from migratory birds, the natural reservoir, to terrestrial and domestic birds. It has also been detected in a range of mammals including mink, foxes, bears, seals, cats, dogs, goats and now cows.

"We still don't know a lot about this virus, for example, what are the genetic determinants that enable this virus to transmit from avian hosts to other mammals?" said Ahmed Elsayed, Ph.D., a Staff Scientist in Martinez-Sobrido's lab. Dr. Elsayed has been studying avian influenza for 16 years and joined Texas Biomed in 2023. "We need to study this virus as a 'One-Health' approach to be able to face it."

The researchers are applying advanced tools and techniques that they use to study viruses like seasonal influenza and SARS-CoV-2. Work takes place in a higher biosafety level laboratory, following protocols approved by federal biomedical research regulators.

"The genetic sequencing analysis from the CDC indicates that the H5N1 strain found in the patient does not have any mutations associated with resistance to current antiviral drugs," said Martinez-Sobrido. "However, it is important to continue developing an array of countermeasures in case existing ones lose effectiveness."

Texas Biomed is a nonprofit research institute dedicated to protecting the global community from infectious diseases. Through basic research, preclinical testing and innovative partnerships, we accelerate diagnostics, therapies and vaccines for the world's deadliest pathogens. Our San Antonio campus hosts high containment laboratories and the Southwest National Primate Research Center. The institute collaborates with industry and researchers globally and helped deliver the first COVID-19 vaccine, the first Ebola treatment and first Hepatitis C therapy.

SOURCE Texas Biomedical Research Institute

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