First mRNA EEHV vaccine approved and administered to zoo elephant

Colossal and Dr. Paul Ling of Baylor College of Medicine achieve breakthrough in elephant conservation with new vaccine targeting deadly virus

New Delhi: Colossal has facilitated the development and administration of the first mRNA vaccine for Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a deadly virus affecting elephants. The vaccine was administered to an Asian elephant at the Houston Zoo.
EEHV is the leading cause of death among Asian elephant calves in managed care in North America and Europe, and it significantly impacts wild populations. Recent EEHV-related deaths in African elephants in the U.S. have raised concerns about the virus’s threat to this species as well. The new vaccine aims to protect both Asian and African elephants from this lethal disease.
Dr. Paul Ling, Professor at the Department of Microbiology and Virology of Baylor College of Medicine, who has been working on EEHV since 2009 in partnership with the Houston Zoo, led the development of the vaccine. Colossal’s involvement provided crucial scientific support, research teams, and funding, accelerating the progress of this project.
“Colossal supported our efforts to work on an mRNA solution approach,” said Dr. Ling. “It quickly became evident that the mRNA solution was going to be feasible, so we prioritized implementation of that approach. We are much further along today than we would have been without Colossal’s support, research teams and funding.”
EEHV can cause lethal hemorrhagic disease, often leading to massive viral loads in multiple organs. The mRNA vaccine is designed to expose elephants to viral proteins critical for the virus’s attachment and entry into host cells, thereby inducing an immune response to block these processes. The initial vaccine targets the EEHV1A strain, which is responsible for most lethal infections in Asian elephants. The mRNA platform can be modified to target other EEHV strains affecting African elephants in the future.
Preclinical trials demonstrated that the vaccine induces antibodies against the virus without adverse effects. Recently approved by multiple oversight entities, the vaccine was administered to Tess, a 40-year-old Asian elephant at the Houston Zoo. Over the coming weeks, veterinary staff will closely monitor Tess to assess the vaccine’s effectiveness. Successful results could lead to broader vaccination efforts within the zoo and other facilities housing vulnerable young elephants.
Dr. Ling envisions the vaccine being available for elephants under human care globally within the next three to five years, with potential applications for wild populations following that. This marks a significant advancement in elephant conservation and scientific innovation.
“I’m glad we could help accelerate and shorten this multi-decade journey with EEHV,” said Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Colossal. “Elephants are incredibly intelligent keystone species that are critical to their ecosystems and worth saving. What Dr. Ling and our team have done is incredible, and we are thrilled that our partnership was essential to making this happen.”
Colossal’s use of proprietary AI computational technologies to sequence the Asian elephant genome provided crucial data for evaluating vaccine responses. This advanced technological support, combined with research funding, expedited the vaccine’s development and deployment.
Matt James, Colossal’s Chief Animal Officer, expressed his relief and excitement: “In my 15 years caring for elephants, I have witnessed them battle EEHV time and again. I even lost a juvenile elephant under my care. It was among the most excruciating moments of my career. To be able to get a vaccine into the world that can stop that sort of senseless loss means everything to me. This is why I joined Colossal. I know we can work faster, and smarter, to save species on the brink of extinction: this is proof.”
Colossal emphasizes the urgency of integrating advanced scientific developments with conservation efforts to prevent extinction. The success of the EEHV vaccine is a crucial step forward in protecting elephants, with many more species still needing similar interventions.