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Development and Evaluation of Live, Attenuated Rotavirus Vaccines

Kapikian, Albert
DHHS/NIH - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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Diarrheal diseases are the second leading single cause of death (behind pneumonia) in children under 5 years of age, accounting for approximately 15% (1.336 million) of the estimated 8.795 million deaths in this age group annually, with the greatest toll in the developing countries. Rotaviruses (RVs) have emerged as the single most important cause of severe diarrhea of infants and young children in both developed and developing countries accounting for approximately 500,000 deaths in the under 5 year age group, mostly in developing countries. RVs are uniquely egalitarian as they infect infants and young children with similar frequency in countries with high or low socio-economic conditions.

We developed an oral, live, attenuated RV vaccine in a quadrivalent formulation to protect against the four epidemiologically important serotypes (G1-4).The vaccine was comprised of representatives of each of the following 4 serotypes: rhesus rotavirus (RRV), a G3 strain, (the Jennerian approach), and three human RV-RRV reassortants, each possessing ten RRV genes and a single human RV gene that encodes VP7 (a major outer shell protein) that is responsible for serotype G1, G2, or G4 specificity (the modified Jennerian approach).

Following clinical studies which demonstrated the candidate vaccine's safety, immunogenicity and efficacy especially against severe diarrheal disease, the ACIP, which advises the CDC, recommended its routine use for infants at 2, 4, and 6 months of age. Subsequently, in August 1998 the FDA granted a Biologics License for the vaccine (RotaShield RRV-TV) to Wyeth Laboratories. However, in July 1999, after over one million doses had been given to an estimated 600,000 infants, the CDC recommended suspending further vaccination because post-licensure surveillance suggested that the vaccine was linked with intussusception.

Following additional CDC investigations, in October 1999 the ACIP withdrew its recommendation because of additional data which supported the vaccine's link with intussusception. In conjunction with these events, Wyeth Laboratories withdrew the vaccine from the market. Later data demonstrated that age of vaccination was a critical factor in the link with intussusception. In the CDC case-control study, vaccinees who were 90 days of age or older at the time of the first dose developed 81% of all cases occurring within 2 weeks of vaccination, even though they received only 38% of all first doses. Thus, catch-up vaccination of older infants during the age period of high vulnerability to intussusception (3 or 4 to 9 months of age) contributed disproportionately. In addition, there are questions regarding the vaccine's actual attributable risk of intussusception, a risk estimate that has ranged widely.

Because the RRV-TV vaccine was associated with a transient and characteristically low grade fever in up to about one-third of vaccinees and the knowledge that bovine RV-based vaccines were characteristically non-reactogenic, in parallel with RRV-TV vaccine studies we had initiated studies with individual human-bovine rotavirus (UK) reassortants and found that they were safe and immunogenic. These were followed by clinical studies of the 4 reassortants combined, a formulation that represented the 4 epidemiologically-important RV serotypes, and showed that this vaccine (BRV-TV) was also safe and immunogenic. In a Wyeth-Univ.of Tampere-NIH collaborative clinical study in Finland, in which the RRV-TV and BRV-TV were evaluated in a two-dose schedule, the BRV-TV and RRV-TV induced a high level of protection against severe RV diarrhea over two RV seasons. The BRV-TV vaccine did not induce a significantly greater number of febrile episodes after vaccination when compared to controls whereas RRV-TV did. In addition, another Wyeth-University of Tampere-NIH collaborative study in Finland evaluating the effect of administering RRV-TV vaccine or placebo in three different schedules, showed that neonates did not develop a febrile response after the neonatal dose. In addition, the neonatal dose induced significant protection against the development of a febrile response when infants received a second dose at two months of age.

We have pursued our continued interest in RV vaccines especially for the developing countries where the toll from diarrheal diseases is immense. The NIH granted an exclusive license to BIOVIRx, Inc., a U.S. company (which was later transferred to the non-profit International Medica Foundation (IMF). This effort with RRV-TV stalled initially but was revived when funding became available from the IMF. Thus, a quadrivalent RRV-TV vaccine (RotaShield) was produced by The IDT Biologika GmbH in Germany, and became available in 2009 for clinical trial. A placebo-controlled phase II safety and efficacy trial began with RotaShield in Ghana on August 28, 2009 when 9 neonates were given orally the vaccine or placebo. By the end of Nov 2009 almost 1000 infants were given the 2nd dose of RotaShield or placebo: the 1st dose within the first 29 days of life and the 2nd dose before 60 days of age with a minimum interval of 3 weeks .

The study period ended at the end of November, 2010 when the final participant reached an age within two weeks of the first birthday. The vaccine demonstrated 67% efficacy against pooled G1-G4 diarrhea in almost 900 study individuals and induced a 4-fold or greater IgA ELISA antibody response in over 50% of vaccinees. In addition, efforts to implement our second generation vaccine, the human RV-bovine RV reassortant vaccine (BRV) for the developing countries have advanced. The NIH OTT initially granted licenses to develop the bovine RV-based vaccine to 8 institutions, one in the U.S. and seven in developing countries (Brazil, China and India). Three of the 8 have engaged in vaccine production and in various stages of early clinical trials (one of these was suspended- contamination) and a fourth licensee is producing pre-vaccine materials. Requests for licenses have continued with the OTT granting licenses for BRV vaccine to an additional 2 laboratories in 2009 and 2 in 2010 in China with pending requests for licenses by 5 additional labs in China and one in India. Also, one laboratory in China was granted a license to manufacture a human-porcine (Gottfried) reassortant vaccine in 2008 and additionally is seeking a license for the BRV vaccine. LID serves as the unofficial reference laboratory for this program performing various functions (e.g. ranging from temperature stability, to sequence analysis, etc). We are proposing that the second generation RV vaccine be comprised of 6 serotypes (G1-4, 8 and 9) as a universal vaccine or as a specifically designed vaccine for different areas of the world. The proposed manufacture of the vaccine in developing countries should result in its availability at low cost, which would facilitate its implementation in the developing areas of the world. Our goal of vaccine implementation for the developing world was given an unsolicited boost, when we were notified in Oct 2006 by PATH that the Gates Foundation had approved their application with funding '... to support the process and clinical development of the NIH bovine rotavirus vaccine through Phase 2 at two selected manufacturers; and address product development challenges relevant to all emerging manufacturers of this vaccine.' This grant has been extended through 2012. In addition, in Nov 2010 PATH received a new grant from the Gates Foundation which will support a large phase 3 trial of one our licensees in India of a pentavalent BRV vaccine. In 2010, PATH also received a grant from the Dep't for Int'l Dev (DFID), which in part is for the support of a reference lab in Vellore, India for BRV vaccine candidates which will ' ... provide technical support and training on immunological assays to four BRV producers.'

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
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Viruses and Prions
Prevention and Control
Bacterial Pathogens
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication