A Seattle-based biotech company is working to fight the possibility of a pandemic of a disease that causes hemorrhagic fever.
Lassa fever captured the attention of the World Health Organization concerned about potential pathogens that cause future epidemics.
Lassa fever is a nasty, very serious disease causing a hemorrhagic fever, similar to Ebola. It's a disease that basically breaks down of all your internal organs. It is deadly; in regular patients hospitalized it has 20 percent mortality rate.
Dr. Kristin Bedard, head of virology at Kineta Biotechnology, knows every aspect of the disease. She's spent the last several years discovering how to prevent a Lassa outbreak.
"It starts out with flu-like symptoms, fever, body ache, normal symptoms following a viral infection, but once the patient is hospitalized, things declined very rapidly, and we will have virulent spread throughout the body systems, and you will have this hemorrhagic disease," said Bedard.
The virus is found in common field rats found in Africa and is endemic throughout many African countries. But Bedard says within a test tube inside the Kineta biotech lab, there is a tool to fight Lassa.
"It essentially prevents the virus from getting into human cells...It's a small molecule, and it actually binds to receptors that that are necessary for the virus to enter a human cell," said Bedard.
The Lassa fighting molecule is called LHF-535. So far it's cost more than $7 million to develop, but there is still much more to be done, like human safety studies. Thanks to a grant from global charitable foundation Wellcome Trust researchers can move forward with healthy volunteer drug studies to test safety in humans.
"You give the drug to healthy volunteers, this is an oral therapeutic," Bedard said. "They'll be given the drug orally; it's a once a day dosing…the patients get the drug for two weeks. If everything is ok then you go into your patient population."
The plan is to advance the drug the clinical development, testing human patients and have the safety studies completed in the next three years
She says while Lassa may not seem like a threat to the United States, it's important to remember that deadly diseases are only a plane ride away.
"It is also important to the United States, because it is a potential risk to the future, and not only are organizations like the Wellcome Trust interested, but also the U.S. government has a very large interest in therapeutics for diseases like Lassa, because it could be a bio defense risk to our country," said Bedard.