Since the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency in February, scientists from around the globe have been working to develop everything from a means to stopping the mosquitoes that spread zika, to tests for the virus, to treatments and vaccines. Finally two companies are ready to take a vaccine to the next step in the war against zika.
Pennsylvania vaccine maker Inovio Pharmaceuticals and South Korea’s GeneOne Life Sciences announced Monday that they had received approval from the FDA to start testing a DNA vaccine, known as GLS-5700, on humans. According to the Washington Post, the early-stage study will include 40 healthy subjects. It is primarily designed to assess the safety of the vaccine but will also measure the immune response generated by the injection.
Zika, part of the flavivirus family of viruses that includes West Nile, dengue and yellow fever, is believed to be responsible for causing thousands of babies to be born with shrunken heads in Brazil and elsewhere. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently detailed the cases of six babies born with the condition in the United States.
Inovio chief executive J. Joseph Kim said the company is also working on vaccines for other devastating global viruses such as Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The zika tests will begin in the next few weeks and expects to report results later this year.
As of May 2016, 58 countries and territories reported continuing mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus; the incidences of viral infection and medical conditions caused by the virus are expanding, not contracting.”
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said he believes the world’s best hope against Zika is a vaccine and that, because of previous research on West Nile and dengue, a Zika vaccine should take less time to develop than vaccines for many other infectious diseases. The challenge is that Zika is unique among its related viruses because the others don’t invade the nervous system or developing fetuses because of blood-brain and placental barriers.
The Food and Drug Administration has also been aggressive about trying to green-light other things that may be useful to the Zika fight. In May, it granted approval for emergency use of a Zika test from Altona Diagnostics. Another company, Hologic, said its product — a diagnostic test used to identify snippets of the Zika virus in human blood — had received similar approval to be used in emergency cases in all 50 U.S. states, plus Puerto Rico and territories.