Could experimental ricin vaccine protect people?

March 17, 2015

Keith Brannon
Phone: 504-862-8789

If an experimental ricin vaccine can protect non-human primates, would it also work to protect people from the deadly toxin? 

Perhaps, according to a Tulane study that shows an experimental ricin vaccine not only protected monkeys from ricin exposure, but it triggered an antibody response similar to the kind people produce when given the vaccine. 

“The pattern of antibody response in the monkeys was almost exactly the same as those in human beings,” says Chad Roy, director of infectious disease aerobiology at the Tulane National Primate Research Center. “That is really exciting because it shows that the nonhuman primate is a good surrogate for what would be a human response.”

The study results were published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers at the Tulane National Primate Research Center were able to protect 12 rhesus macaques from what would have been a lethal dose of the toxin. The monkeys received three doses of the vaccine. All developed protective antibodies over a two-month period.  

Ricin is a highly lethal toxin derived from the seeds of the castor oil plant. Due to its toxicity and the ubiquity of source material, it’s considered a leading bioterrorism threat.

The study is an important step in establishing the efficacy of a vaccine that could be a key biodefense product for those in the military, law enforcement or first responders who would potentially be at risk for exposure.

Private pharmaceutical firm Soligenix Inc. is developing the vaccine, called RiVax. The pilot study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, was conducted with researchers from the University of Kansas, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, University of Colorado and the New York State Department of Health. 

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000