Pharma, US Gov’t pushing for Zika vaccine

By Melissa Fassbender

- Last updated on GMT

President Barack Obama convenes a meeting on the Zika virus, in the Situation Room of the White House, Jan. 26, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama convenes a meeting on the Zika virus, in the Situation Room of the White House, Jan. 26, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Related tags Sanofi pasteur Vaccine

Sanofi Pasteur has launched a Zika vaccine project, levering its experience in developing vaccines for similar viruses, as the US government pushes for “intensified research.”

The vaccine research and development project will utilise Sanofi Pasteur’s established R&D and industrial infrastructure for the newly licensed vaccine for dengue, Dengvaxia.

The company believes Dengvaxia could be leveraged to help understand the spread of the Zika virus (ZIKV), helping speed identification of a vaccine candidate for further clinical development. 

Our invaluable collaborations with scientific and public health experts, both globally and in the regions affected by the outbreaks of ZIKV, together with the mobilization of our best experts will expedite efforts to research and develop a vaccine for this disease​,” said Dr. John Shiver, Global Head of R&D, Sanofi Pasteur.

According to the Sanofi Pasteur, ZIKV is closely related to Dengue, “it belongs to the same Flavivirus genus, is spread by the same species of mosquito and has a similar acute clinical presentation​,” the company noted in its release.

Sanofi Pasteur is responding to the global call to action to develop a Zika vaccine given the disease’s rapid spread and possible medical complications,”​ added Dr. Nicholas Jackson, Sanofi Pasteur’s Global Head of Research and lead on the ZIKV vaccine project.

In addition to the serious possibility of congenital complications associated with Zika, investigations are also underway to assess another reported connection between Zika and a dangerous neurological disorder.​”

Pharma comes forward

However, Sanofi Pasteur is only the most recent company to come forward – nearly two weeks ago GeneOne Life Science and Inovio Pharmaceuticals announced​ a collaborative partnership to test and advance a DNA-based vaccine.

The companies are currently collaborating on two phase I stage vaccine candidates for Ebola and MERS.

According to the release by Geneone, the Zika virus vaccine candidate is currently undergoing preclinical animal studies to evaluate its immunogenicity.

Geneone Life Science CEO, Mr. Young K. Park, said, “We are moving rapidly with Inovio and our academic collaborators to test a vaccine for this fast-spreading viral disease causing major birth defects in newborns. We aim to be on the front line of defense against major emerging infectious disease such as Ebola, MERS and now the Zika virus​.”

Other companies are also considering developing a vaccine; Reuters reports that GlaxoSmithKline is evaluating the feasibility of using its vaccine technology to combat ZIKV.

Government push

Last week, President Barack Obama met with CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden and other health and national security advisors to discuss the potential of a Zika virus outbreak in the U.S.

In the meeting, the President emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts. Specifically, to develop vaccines and therapeutics, as well as making sure diagnostics tests are available.

A few days following the assembly, The World Health Organization (WHO) had its first meeting of the Emergency Committee (EC) convened by the Director-General under the International Health Regulations.

WHO and the EC discussed the cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders in some areas affected by Zika virus. At the end of the meeting the Committee provided advice to the Director-General.

In its statement, WHO advised: “Appropriate research and development efforts should be intensified for Zika virus vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics​.”

Additionally, the organization called for “intensified research​” into the etiology of new clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders “in order to determine whether there is a causative link to Zika virus and/or other factors or co-factors​.”

WHO also stated that authorities should ensure rapid and timely reporting and information sharing.

Ultimately, “The development of new diagnostics for Zika virus infection should be prioritized to facilitate surveillance and control measures​,” said WHO in its statement.

The WHO Director-General has accepted the advice, and responded:

A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy​.”

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