Recruiting of Queensland volunteers is underway for the first human trials of the monoclonal antibody treatment for Hendra virus, a deadly bat-borne disease.
Source: 7.30 Queensland | Duration: 7min 22sec
MATT WORDSWORTH: Well it’s one of the world’s deadliest diseases. The Hendra virus has a 50 per cent survival rate. But now human trials for a treatment are about to start in Queensland. Where four people have died from the disease. Recruiting gets underway shortly but with more than 30 outbreaks of the bat-borne virus on properties in the last few years. It can’t come soon enough. Kathy McLeish reports.
LAWRENCE SPRINGBORG: Thank you very much Peter it is absolutely fantastic to be here with you here today and what I think is an extremely important and far reaching announcement.
KATHY McLEISH: In Brisbane this week came the news Linda Rogers had waited for. Four years after the death of her husband from Hendra virus. Human trials on a treatment are about to begin.
LINDA ROGERS, WIFE: When some poor wretched person finds themself in Alisters position we need something more to offer them and that’s why this advancement with the monoclonal antibody is just wonderful news.
KATHY McLEISH: In late July 2009, Rockhampton vet Alister Rodgers attended a sick horse on a property in Queensland’s Central West. He knew about Hendra Virus but there’d been less than one outbreak a year none of them in his region.
DR BARRETT HASSELL, ROCKHAMPTON VETERINARIAN: There was the awareness of Hendra Virus and the potential risk I suppose had been underestimated.
LINDA ROGERS: He was certainly caught off guard.
KATHY McLEISH: The alarm was raised quickly but not before he’d come into contact with one of the world’s rarest and deadliest viruses, which is spread in bodily fluids from flying foxes to horses and then on to humans.
LINDA ROGERS: Initially when he told me he’d been exposed at that stage there was a fifty per cent chance of survival rate and I in my ignorance and stupidity just automatically thought he’d be fine.
DR GEOFFREY PLAYFORD, INFECTIOUS DISEASES SPECIALIST: It’s a terribly traumatic time for those people not knowing whether they will develop Hendra virus waiting quite some weeks before they are given the all clear.
LINDA ROGERS: When he did show symptoms he deteriorated very rapidly within about 48 hours it was just an incredible decline.
KATHY McLEISH: Since the first outbreaks in 1994 when horse trainer, Vic Rail died of the disease, scientists had been trying to decode the Hendra Virus puzzle. By the time Alister Rodgers was infected, researchers in the United States had made a significant breakthrough. Using DNA technology they’d developed a monoclonal antibody for Hendra Virus. It was offered to Alister Rodgers.
LINDA ROGERS: I’d say desperate almost seems like an understatement your anxiety is just completely overwhelming you and you just don’t know where to go. Alister, to my knowledge was the first human to receive it was explained clearly that it was highly experimental but at the time as I said Alister was on life support his medical test came back very poor result for me it was a fairly easy decision to go ahead and try it even if it didn’t help him I was hoping the knowledge that they got from it would help other people.
KATHY McLEISH: The treatment came too late for the Rodgers family. But over the next three years the antibody was given to three more people.
DR GEOFFREY PLAYFORD: We know that these persons that we’ve treated were very high risk of developing Hendra virus by virtue of their significant exposure to infected horses to their respiratory secretions and to their blood. They were all administered the antibody within the incubation period and none of them were subsequently shown to be infected.
KATHY McLEISH: Groundbreaking results from the most recent animal trials have just been published.
DR CHRIS BRODER, DEPT OF IMMUNOLOGY & MICROBIOLOGY UNIFORMED SERVICES UNIVERSITY, USA: You can actually infect monkeys with a tenfold lethal dose of virus and wait as long as five days before giving the first dose of antibody and then about 48 hours later we’ll give a second dose and all those animals 100 per cent of those animals will survive the infection.
KATHY McLEISH: Professor Chris Broder developed the antibody which binds to protein on Hendra virus particles, blocking entry to healthy human cells. The immune system then fights off the virus. He says it’s also highly effective on the related bat borne Nipah Virus which has killed more than 200 people in south East Asia.
DR CHRIS BRODER: At least as far as data and the literature goes no other antibody to such a pathogenic virus infection has been shown that you can administer it after you infect the animal and actually protect the animal from the eventuality of death in this case because both viruses are so potently lethal.
KATHY McLEISH: In 2010, the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at the University of Queensland were approached to make batches of the antibody for human use. Professor Peter Grey heads the Institute. So the work that was done here was about creating an antibody that was pure enough for human use?
PROF. PETER GREY DIRECTOR, AUST. INST. FOR BIOENGINEERING & NANOTECHNOLOGY: That’s right we received the cell line from Professor Broder in the United States and then worked up a process to make very high purity material. What they do here is take the cells grow them under controlled conditions and then they secrete the antibody into the supernatant and we purify that.
KATHY McLEISH: In three years the Institute has made 200 grams of the Hendra antibody. It sounds like a tiny dose, but it’s been enough to provide supplies for the CSIRO, the US laboratories, and a stockpile in case of emergencies. There’s also enough for the first human trials. The trials, to test the safety and side effects of monoclonal antibody will be conducted in Queensland over the next 12 to 18 months. It’s a last line of defence. Authorities say vaccinating horses, better safety precautions and separating animals from flying foxes have drastically cut the number of high risk exposures.
KATHY McLEISH: Dr Geoffrey Playford will oversee the trials. If successful and approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration the antibody would then be readily available.
DR GEOFFREY PLAYFORD: We would have much more confidence in being able to offer potentially exposed people this antibody therapy be able to counsel them to allow them to make an informed decision based upon quite a wealth of safety information that we’ll gather from this trial.
KATHY McLEISH: The scientific collaboration has transcended borders and funding has also come from a variety of sources. Including a memorial fund established in Alister Rodgers’name.
LINDA RODGERS: I’m glad this fund has given the community back something and Alister’s life hasn’t been in vain.