Venezuelan, eastern, and western equine encephalitis viruses (VEEV, EEEV and WEEV) are mosquito borne viruses indigenous to many parts of North and South America. They are also recognized for their potential use as agents of biowarfare or bioterrorism due to their pathogenicity in humans, relative ease of production, considerable stability, and high aerosol infectivity. As a result, these viruses are classified as Category B priority agents by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The poor safety profile and poor immunogenicity of existing vaccines currently used under Investigational New Drug status have prompted the development of next-generation vaccines to protect against encephalitic virus infections.
iCubed has provided a National Institutes of Health pilot research grant to Dr. Tim Messitt of EpiVax, Inc. and Dr. Les Dupuy of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease. Using the genomes from multiple VEEV, EEEV and WEEV strains (representing over 100 strains of virus) and iCube’s immunoinformatics tools, they will identify epitopes that are both immunogenic and shared amongst strains from all three sub-types. The goal is to produce a safer universal equine encephalitis virus vaccine that offers broad and effective protection.