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West Nile virus vaccine.

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Acambis Inc., 38 Sidney Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA.


Within the past 5 years, West Nile encephalitis has emerged as an important disease of humans and horses in Europe. In 1999, the disease appeared for the first time in the northeastern United States. West Nile virus (a mosquito-borne flavivirus) has flourished in the North American ecosystem and is expected to expand its geographic range. In this review, the rationale for a human and veterinary vaccine is presented and a novel approach for rapid development of a molecularly-defined, live, attenuated vaccine is described. The technology (ChimeriVax) is applicable to the development of vaccines against all flaviviruses, and products against Japanese encephalitis (a close relative of West Nile) and dengue are in or are nearing clinical trials, respectively. ChimeriVax vaccines utilize the safe and effective vaccine against the prototype flavivirus -yellow fever 17D- as a live vector. Infectious clone technology is used to replace the genes encoding the pre-membrane (prM) and envelope (E) protein of yellow fever 17D vaccine with the corresponding genes of the target virus (e.g., West Nile). The resulting chimeric virus contains the antigens responsible for protection against West Nile but retains the replication efficiency of yellow fever 17D. The ChimeriVax technology is well-suited to the rapid development of a West Nile vaccine, and clinical trials could begin as early as mid-2002. Other approaches to vaccine development are briefly reviewed. The aim of this brief review is to describe the features of West Nile encephalitis, a newly introduced infectious disease affecting humans, horses and wildlife in the United States; the rationale for rapid development of vaccines; and approaches to the development of vaccines against the disease.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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