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International Collaboration Takes Aim at Rabies

nce,” Dr. Poonawalla said. “This new partnership, I believe, will eventually bring relief to many people around the world.”

While deaths from rabies in the United States are rare, more than 40,000 people in the U.S. are exposed to the disease each year and require post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Worldwide, however, rabies remains a major public health problem. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 10 million people are exposed to rabid animals each year, resulting in some 55,000 deaths.

The rabies virus infection causes acute encephalitis that is fatal once symptoms appear; however, the infection is preventable by prompt treatment following exposure. By using a rabies vaccine and human rabies immune globulin (hRIG) during treatment, patients are protected from the fatal disease. The hRIG, which is derived from human blood, is an expensive material and is often not available in developing countries. To compensate, equine immune globulin derived from horse serum is used in many parts of the world, but it can carry significant side effects and is not an optimal product.

To address the supply problems and side-effect issues, the CDC and MBL launched an effort to find a MAB that could be used in place of hRIG. The work used, in part, the HuMab mice? from Medarex, Inc. (Princeton, N.J.) which uses transgenic mice to produce fully human antibodies. Researches at MBL vaccinated transgenic mice with the rabies virus and then studied the animals’ immune responses, searching for antibodies that would recognize and bind to the rabies virus coat or glycoprotein. The team isolated a series of those antibodies, and tested them against live rabies virus strains in culture. That research found one MAB in particular, now called HuMAB 17 C7, which worked dramatically and broadly. It was tested against 25 different rabies viruses, representing the major types known to affect animals, and in each case neutralized the rabies viruses in
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