Eduardo Olmedillas, Ph.D.

What if the sole survivor of a lethal disease holds the key to uncovering a lifesaving treatment?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has a mortality rate of ~2%. Now think of a mortality rate of 80%. That could be a new outbreak of Lujo virus (LUJV). In 2008, in Zambia, there was an outbreak of a previously unknown hemorrhagic fever that triggered a chain of human-to-human transmissions. Just one person survived. New outbreaks of previously unknown viruses such as Lujo continue to appear in locations where these viruses were absent or unknown before. That is why we must be prepared for new unexpected viral epidemics.

At LJI we have a great opportunity to make history in the prevention of LUJV. We were able to find, contact and convince the only survivor of LUJV to collaborate in this race around the clock to obtain tools to deal with future outbreaks of LUJV or related emerging viruses. That key is in their blood and it’s called antibodies. The Saphire lab has the technology to isolate, characterize and study with atomic precision the antibodies that the survivor’s immune system generated after a natural infection by LUJV, and we can also produce them at a large scaleto conduct all the necessary pre-clinical evaluations.

We will be the only ones in the world that will have this valuable sample and the technology to prevent future deaths, and our mission is to apply all our knowledge generated in the study of other viruses at the service of LUJV to obtain therapeutics that will be unique in the world. There’s just one person in the world with those antibodies, and they want to collaborate with us. We just need some starting resources to do it.

SPARKing Impact: The project presents a unique opportunity to generate a safe and efficacious treatment for a deadly emerging virus and will serve as a proof-of-concept for the rapid development of live-saving treatments for future outbreaks of hitherto unknown viruses.