Researchers at Fort Detrick are seeing promising results with a new anthrax vaccine, which could be the first major advance in the field since 1970.
Dr. Arthur M. Friedlander, of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, designed the experiments. The vaccine is intended to protect against inhaled anthrax bacteria.
In the study, all the monkeys that received the vaccine before becoming infected were able to fight off the bacteria.
The study was one of the first checkpoints the vaccine must pass before moving on to clinical trials in humans.
“We have a long way to go, because we’re still really working on trying to optimize the production of this vaccine. And that will take some time,” Friedlander said.
In the study, researchers tested anthrax aerosol on adult rhesus macaques and New Zealand white rabbits.
The macaques survived, but the rabbits did not. Friedlander said his team suspects rabbits are not receptive to that type of vaccine.
“We’re actively studying that,” he said.
Donald J. Chabot, Wilson J. Ribot and Jennifer Chua from USAMRIID also worked with Friedlander on the study.
The new vaccine is different from the existing licensed vaccine because of the way it approaches the anthrax bacteria, Friedlander said.
Previous vaccines have neutralized the toxin that the anthrax bacteria creates in the body.
In this new vaccine, antibodies latch onto the bacteria’s protective outer shell, enticing white blood cells in the body’s immune system to kill them.
Friedlander has been working on this type of vaccine, taking advantage of the bacteria’s shell, or “capsule,” for about a decade, he said.
The discovery comes 15 years after the 2001 anthrax mailings. Envelopes containing anthrax bacteria in powder form were mailed to U.S. senators and news media organizations.
The late Dr. Bruce Ivins, a researcher at USAMRIID, was the FBI’s main suspect in the anthrax mailings.
Five people who came into contact with the bacteria died, and 17 more were sickened.
Friedlander said the knowledge of those mailings still motivates his work.
“There’s still a threat, and we’re trying to optimize the protection,” he said.
Friedlander was a finalist in 2012 for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal. He was nominated for his research on vaccines and therapeutics for anthrax and the plague.
His research took center stage after the anthrax attacks in 2001.
The current vaccine was licensed for human use in 1970. Friedlander’s team’s vaccine is the only one that has protected nonhuman primates from death by anthrax inhalation.
He expects the two vaccines to complement each other and be combined into a single, licensed vaccine after testing is complete.
The study has been published online in the journal Vaccine.
It was funded by the Medical Biological Defense Research Program at the institute.
More tests will be needed before the vaccine can be administered to humans, Friedlander said.
“We have to have a test that says we’re confident it’s going to work.”