First Vaccine Trial

Zika has been on everyone's lips recently...and it is plastered across the front page of all media publications. It's a disease that has, thus far, caused quite an amount of alarm. But there is new home.

US-based company Inovio Pharmaceuticals is the first company to receive approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test an experimental Zika virus vaccine on humans, and they are going to start trials in just a few weeks time.

"We are proud to have attained the approval to initiate the first Zika vaccine study in human volunteers," said J. Joseph Kim, president and CEO of US-based Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which is developing the vaccine with South Korean partner, GeneOne Life Science. "We plan to dose our first subjects in the next weeks and expect to report phase 1 interim results later this year."

The vaccine, called GLS-5700, will be administered to 40 healthy volunteers in an attempt to immunize people against Zika virus.

The Race Against the Outbreak

"As of May 2016, 58 countries and territories reported continuing mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus," said Kim. "[T]he incidences of viral infection and medical conditions caused by the virus are expanding, not contracting."

In February this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a global public health emergency. Zika can lead to death, and its effects on the unborn babies of pregnant women are severe. Babies born to women who get infected during pregnancy have abnormally small heads, a condition called microcephaly. These children face defects and disabilities that would impact them for life.

Microcephaly. Image credit: Sumaia VillelaAgência Brasil/WikiCommons

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed the link between Zika infection and the birth defect two months ago.

The outbreak affected Brazil the heaviest, pushing the government to go so far as to advise women not to get pregnant, and reigniting debates on abortion for pregnant women who were exposed to the virus at some point in their pregnancy.

GLS–5700 stimulates the body’s immune system to defend against the Zika virus. Although the development of the vaccine does bring hope, it is too early to pin them all on one vaccine. Animal trials have been conducted and were successful but it does not guarantee safe and effective immunization for humans.

Another vaccine candidate uses a specific protein called interferon-induced protein 3 which works by reducing the virus’ ability to infect brain cells. Other companies are working on Zika vaccines as well.


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