The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases began its first human trial with an experimental DNA-based Zika vaccine. If it proves to be effective, phase 2 trials could start in January. The trial began early after the first cases of local transmission were announced in the continental United States.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced today that two volunteers have received the vaccine. They belong to a group of 80 people who are involved in the study. All participants will receive the vaccine by the end of August. The trials are taking place in 4 different areas: Bethesda, Maryland, Baltimore, and Atlanta. The volunteers will be divided into three groups that will get the same dose at various intervals during 20 weeks.
Fauci said that this vaccine includes a small piece of DNA with genes that code for Zika-virus proteins that will be injected using a spring coil injector. The vaccine will be applied into the deltoid muscle, located in the arm, near the shoulder. Once injected, the body cells should read the DNA and create virus-like particles that activate the immune system to produce antibodies to fight Zika.
The trial will assess the vaccine’s safety and ability to provoke an immune system response. Fauci said in a statement that is imperative to prevent Zika virus infection and the devastating birth defects that it causes in newborns. If the first trial happens to be successful, a phase 2 trial will take place in January 2017.
Zika can cause damages within the first three months of pregnancy. It can also cause microcephaly in the fetus. This is why, after the vaccine trials, girls and young woman would be the first to receive the treatment, especially those in areas that have been hard-hit by the virus.
Fauci said that “the target of the vaccine will be women of childbearing age and their sexual partners.” He stated that in the real world, women are the most vulnerable to Zika virus, and they need to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Regarding the safety of the trial, the agency said that DNA vaccines do not contain infectious material. Thus, they cannot make volunteers sick with Zika.
The race in the U.S. to find a Zika vaccine started in July
The Zika crisis has created a race among some companies and academic groups to locate the cure of Zika, but a final result is not expected to be ready at least for 2 or 3 years. Human trials to test a Zika vaccine began in July in the U.S with Inovio Pharmaceutical’s efforts. The company has also developed a DNA-based vaccine and started trials in Miami in July after receiving the FDA approval.
The U.S. needs money to find a cure: Republicans may not think the same
Fauci said that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has enough doses of the vaccine to start the phase 2 trials if the first phase proves to be successful. The problem is that the Institute does not count with enough money to plan and administer the phase 2 study.
The White House press secretary Josh Ernest said on Wednesday that Republicans opposing extra funding for Zika virus are limiting the efforts to develop a vaccine rapidly, reported CNN. Zika could start spreading this summer. Without the vaccine, the government will not be able to protect Americans from the virus.
Zika is spreading fast in the continental U.S. Cases of the disease are increasing in Florida. The latter announced last week its first case of a local transmission of the virus in a Miami neighborhood. According to public health officials, small, localized outbreaks are like to take place in southern U.S. states because they are already vulnerable to the mosquito-borne disease.
The Commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services, John Hellerstedt, said that the local transmissions in Florida, travels to Brazil for the Olympics, and the mosquito season in Texas, are the perfect mix to increase the risk of Zika, said Fox News.
Texas health officials urged residents to take precautions against mosquito bites and stated that they are on high alert for local Zika transmission. Brazil is the most affected country by Zika. The 2016 Olympic Games, are going to take place in the Latin American country. This would increase the risk of spreading the virus to other parts of the world.