Rabies is a zoonotic viral infection deadly to humans and animals. It is transmitted when the saliva of an infected animal comes in contact with broken skin, usually through a bite. The virus causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) that is routinely fatal unless treated before symptoms appear.
Although veterinary vaccines have been successful in controlling the incidence of rabies in pets, the common presence of the disease among wild fox, coyote, bat, and raccoon populations poses a continuing threat to human health. Worldwide, more than 60,000 people die annually from rabies and another 15 million receive post-exposure treatment to prevent the disease. In the United States, rabies presents a significant wildlife management and public-health challenge.
The use of reservoir-targeted vaccines (RTV) is an increasingly common strategy for controlling rabies in free-ranging animal populations. RTVs for rabies typically consist of orally ingested bait containing live, weakened vaccinia virus engineered to express a rabies-virus surface glycoprotein. Ingestion of the bait by target animals results in the development of immunity to the virus, breaking the cycle of transmission.
While effective, use of vaccinia-based bait presents its own risks to the health of humans and domestic animals. Ventria Bioscience is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop alternative strategies for an orally delivered RTV that can control rabies in a safe and cost-effective manner. Ventria Bioscience has received a grant of $226,000 from the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health to find solutions to this serious global problem.