WASHINGTON DC, USA, Monday April 10, 2017 – With projections putting the regional cost of the ongoing spread of the Zika virus at billions of dollars, the news that we are one step closer to a vaccine against the mosquito-borne disease is timely.
On Friday, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said that the DNA vaccine candidate developed by scientists at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center has been successful in both animal trials and the first human trial.
Following this success, the agency, which is part of the US National Institutes of Health, has moved into the next stage of testing.
Volunteers have been signing up at clinics across the Americas to participate in the tests which are being carried out at 11 sites including those in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Mexico and Miami.
This leg of the trial will involve 90 healthy adults divided into groups who will get different doses of the vaccine.
The next step, starting mid-year, will see researchers conducting a randomized control trial in 2,400 adults and adolescents who have not been infected with the virus but who live in areas where it has been detected.
The vaccine will not be tested in pregnant women, but it will be tested in women of child-bearing age. Some of the volunteers will be given a placebo.
The vaccine could be moved to the next phase by the end of the year if all goes according to plan.
The US$100 million trial is fully funded through this phase, but it is not yet clear whether funding is available for the next phase.
The Trump administration has proposed an 18 percent cut to the institutes’ budget, but it is not known what would be lost if the cuts get through Congress unchanged.
Fauci insisted that the third phase of the trial is “a very high priority for us, and we will keep this as one of our higher priorities.”
Noting that Zika will probably not go away any time soon, Fauci said that one of his goals is to develop a vaccine to keep children safe so when people of that generation have children of their own, they will not pass the virus along during pregnancy.
There is evidence of mosquito-transmitted Zika in at least 84 countries, meaning there are thousands of foetuses at risk for birth defects if their mothers become infected.
Birth defects linked to the virus include microcephaly, in which the head and brain don’t develop properly; vision and hearing defects; and learning disabilities.
People of any age who are infected with Zika can experience heart problems. The viral infection can also trigger Guillain-Barré, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks nerves, leading to potential paralysis and even death.
Scientists around the world are racing to create viable versions of a Zika vaccine.