By Debbie Gregory.
French drugmaker Sanofi has reached a research and development deal with the U.S. Army to develop a vaccine against the mosquito-borne Zika virus.
A vaccine to combat Zika, which has been linked to birth defects and neurological disorders, is currently not available.
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito. People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. However, Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause the birth defect microcephaly, or small heads in babies, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder.
Sanofi is the only major drugmaker working on a vaccine.
The collaboration with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) gives Sanofi access to a promising new vaccine, made from inactivated virus, that has already produced impressive results in mice, and could be ready for testing on humans in October.
WRAIR is a biomedical research facility administered by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Zika virus, which has caused a major outbreak that began in Brazil last year, has spread to many countries in the Americas.
A single dose of the WRAIR’s experimental vaccine was shown to give 100 percent protection in mice against the Zika virus, according to a study published in Nature last week, boosting hopes that it will also work in humans.
Sanofi is developing another Zika vaccine based on its own know-how in battling established mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, Japanese encephalitis and yellow fever.
However, that vaccine will take longer to develop and Sanofi said earlier this year it did not expect to start clinical trials on its in-house Zika candidate until 2017.
Sanofi’s factory in Lyon is capable of producing 100 million doses per year of its four-strain dengue shot, which could be adapted if needed to make even more doses of a single-strain Zika product.