THE BLOG

Zika Virus: The Race To Develop A Vaccine

But, according to the WHO, the Olympics will "not significantly alter" the spread of Zika as it will be held during the winter months when the mosquito responsible for spreading the virus is less active:
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Responsible for grave birth defects, scientists are scambling to develop a vaccine for the Zika virus tearing across Latin America.

According to a new study published in Nature, there are two specific Dengue fever antibodies that can neutralize the virus.

Yet, most Dengue antibodies can in fact excerbate the virus.

As Dengue fever tends to affect 90% of areas battling against Zika, these findings suggest that a future vaccine could potentially safeguard against both viruses.

Over 15 companies are currently locked in a race to develop a drug, and US group Invovio is the first out of the blocks to begin human trials for its offering.

After getting the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug administration, the Philadelphia based firm will begin testing on 40 healthy adults in the coming weeks. The vaccine has already been tested on large and medium sized animals.

The experimental drug called GLS-5700, uses man made fragments of the virus to stimulate an immune response in the body. Researchers will probably require several trials to prove its efficacy and safety.

Although most Zika victims experience mild to no symptoms, the virus spread by the Aedes mosquito wreaks havoc in an unborn baby.

Earlier this year, the virus started to dominate headlines after Brazil reported a surge in microcephaly: an uncommon birth defect where babies are born with abnormally small heads and severe development issues.

In February, the World Health Organization declared Zika a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

And by June, over 1,500 cases were reported.

Although the condition was initially blamed on a wide variety of factors from genetically modified mosquitos to larvacide in drinking water, by April the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that Zika is in fact spread by an infected Aedes mosquito.

It has now been linked to a vast array of neurological problems and can affect the fetus at any point during a woman'spregnancy.

'Always, the first vaccine to go into clinical trial is important. It means the FDA has reviewed it, and I'm sure is formulating questions and getting ready for additional candidates to submit their investigational drug applications. It shows progress and momentum, and we just need to keep momentum going,' says Anna Durbin, an associate professor of international health at Johns Hopkins.

But, even if Inovio is able to make an effective vaccine, it is unlikely to get to market anytime soon. According to Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine:

"What is not really being said is that once phase one trials are completed, it is likely that progress towards licensure will slow significantly. The FDA or other regulatory bodies will need to see trials to ensure that the vaccine does not induce Guillain-Barré syndrome, as does the Zika virus itself. Since the vaccine would likely be needed for pregnant women or women who are about to become pregnant, the FDA will want to see extensive safety data in these populations."

According to Karen Kotloff who serves on the FDA's vaccines and related biological products advisory committee:

"The average time to take a vaccine from the laboratory bench to somebody's arm is about 10 to 15 years, and there is a wide range on that, so it can be substantially longer."

Last month, the WHO rejected calls for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games to be moved or postponed because of the threat of a large zika outbreak in Brazil.

The move came after 100 leading scientists called on the global health body to act. They argued that it was "unethical" for the games to proceed given that the virus may then spread globally and affect countless other babies:

'The fire is already burning, but that is not a rationale not to do anything about the Olympics," said Amir Attaran, a professor at the University of Ottawa who is one of the letter's authors. "It is not the time now to throw more gasoline on to the fire.'

But, according to the WHO, the Olympics will "not significantly alter" the spread of Zika as it will be held during the winter months when the mosquito responsible for spreading the virus is less active:

"Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games," the WHO said in a statement.

But, the UN health body does advise pregnant women to not travel to the games.

Rickie Fowler has become the latest high-profile golfer to cast doubt on his participation in the Olympic Games owing to Zika. He joins Cyclist Tejay van Garderen who has withdrawn over his concern that the virus could pose a risk to his pregnant wife.