2 Health centres conduct first-in-human lassa fever vaccine trials

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The Navrongo and Kintampo Health Research Centres are among the centres in the world to have conducted the first-in-human trials of a newly developed Lassa fever vaccine.

The two centres, both of the Research and Development Directorate of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and located in the Upper East and Bono East regions respectively, recruited 36 people for the trial.

Each centre recruited 18 people for the exercise in 2023.

The Director of the Navrongo Health Research Centre (NHRC), Dr Patrick Ansah, disclosed this in an interview with the Daily Graphic on the sidelines of a two-day annual scientific review of the facility.

The event was on the theme: “Exploring the synergies between health research and academia for development and excellence in tertiary education.”

Lassa fever

Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic disease caused by the Lassa virus (LASV). It is endemic in West Africa and infects about 300,000 people each year, leading to approximately 5,000 deaths annually.

The disease is known to be endemic in Benin, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Togo and Nigeria.

Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in healthcare settings in the absence of adequate infection prevention and control measures.

The development of the LASV vaccine had been listed as a priority by the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 2018.

Dr Ansah further explained that the phase one trial was done after the necessary approval had been obtained from all relevant regulatory bodies, including the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and the WHO.

He described Lassa fever as “one of the epidemics-prone diseases that we know is likely to come up in the future”.

Dr Ansah said the search for a vaccine for lassa fever was a laudable initiative since it would help deal with the disease, adding “currently there is no vaccine to prevent or treat lassa fever”.

“I must say that it went on successfully.

 We didn’t see any side effects of the vaccine on any of the participants in the trial,” he said.

Dr Ansah said initially, the two centres planned to recruit 54 persons each, but after the vaccine was administered to the initial 18 persons, the evidence was more or less conclusive for them to move on to the next stage. 

He said currently, “labs are working on the result and we want to carry on with the protocols and continue with the next phase of the project,” adding that the exercise was being done in consultation with the FDA, WHO and other interested parties.

Dr Ansah expressed the hope that the vaccine would soon be available for use after it had gone through all the required procedures.

Scientific review

Touching on the annual review, the NHRC boss said the exercise had helped shape the centre’s activities over the years.

“If you always get to work and you don’t assess yourself, you wouldn’t know where you are going,” Dr Ansah also said that the centre would continue to improve on its science communication for the benefit of humanity.

He said the 2024 review focused on science and brought to the fore all the projects the centre was working on.

Dr Ansah commended all departments at the centre, particularly the biomedical and the social sciences for encouraging more people to embark on the project.