The largest-ever Lassa fever research programme in West Africa has been launched in Nigeria by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the Nigeria Lassa Fever Research consortium consisting of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, and supporting partners.
The overall goal is to provide a more accurate estimate of the incidence of the deadly haemorrhagic disease across the region, a statement on CEPI website explained.
Supported through $26m in funding from CEPI, up to 23,000 participants across Nigeria and, in later weeks, four other outbreak-prone countries — Benin, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — will take part in the programme, named ‘Enable’, over the next 24 months.
CEPI lamented that due to significant variability and severity in symptoms, and lack of formal and standardised diagnoses, the true case count of those who have or have previously suffered from Lassa fever infection in West Africa is likely much higher than current estimates of 100,000 to 300,000 cases per year.
“The aim of this multi-country research effort is to therefore build on existing local Lassa fever research and surveillance and provide an update to existing research on the number of people infected with the disease.
“Findings should also highlight any differences in the age and gender of people getting infected and provide a more accurate overview on the proportion of asymptomatic and symptomatic cases,” it said.
Such data will be critical in guiding decisions on the design of future late-stage efficacy trials to evaluate potential Lassa vaccine candidates.
As a leading funder of Lassa vaccine development, CEPI has supported the development of six Lassa vaccine candidates to date, with two vaccines, developed by CEPI partners Inovio and Themis Bioscience, entering clinical trials in 2019.
“Without these findings on Lassa virus circulation, planning the locations for where clinical trials can take place would be challenging,” the coalition warned.
Over 4,800 participants have so far enrolled to take part in the Nigeria component of the Enable programme, named the Nigeria Lassa Epidemiology, or NiLE study.
Speaking about the project, Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said, “In 2019, when NCDC hosted the first-ever Lassa fever International Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, we identified the limited research activities in this area as a challenge and an opportunity.
“We are very proud of the rapid investment and collaboration to begin this epidemiological study. This will provide a better understanding of Lassa fever burden in Nigeria and other West African countries and contribute to the critical goal of developing a Lassa fever vaccine.”
Also, Chair, Nigeria Lassa Fever Research Consortium, Prof S. A. Okogbenin, noted, “This is the beginning of the end of yearly Lassa fever epidemics. It is awesome to be a part of this and we are excited by the enthusiasm of our project staff. We thank CEPI for the initiative and the funding.”
Immediate past Chair of the Programme Steering Committee, Prof. Adebola Olayinka, said, “The journey from Call for Proposals, protocol development and now at the implementation of the Study has been both a learning and capacity building experience for all partners of the Enable programme. This collaborative innovative approach with ownership by the participating countries provides a new and better pathway for how research should be done in the region.”
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