Biotechnology company, GeoVax Labs, Inc announced this week that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded the Company a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant in support of its novel Zika vaccine development program. The grant award of $300,000 will fund the second year of a two-year project period with a total budget of $600,000.
The grant, entitled “Advanced Preclinical Testing of a Novel Recombinant Vaccine Against Zika Virus”, supports advanced preclinical testing of GeoVax’s vaccine candidate (designated GEO-ZM02) in non-human primates in preparation for human clinical trials. GEO-ZM02 is a novel vaccine approach to protect against Zika virus (ZIKV), using GeoVax’s Modified Vaccinia Ankara (MVA) vector to express the ZIKV non-structural protein 1 (NS1).
Farshad Guirakhoo, Chief Scientific Officer at GeoVax, commented, “The studies funded by this grant are building upon previous work that demonstrates the protective efficacy of recombinant vaccines using GeoVax’s MVA live viral vector. We are particularly excited about GEO-ZM02, which has demonstrated 100% single-dose protection in normal mice against a lethal dose of ZIKV delivered by intracerebral inoculation at the CDC laboratories in Fort Collins, CO. GEO-ZM02 not only has the potential of a single-dose vaccine, which is practical to combat epidemics in resource-strained countries, but also does not bear the risk of enhancing other flavivirus infections, such as Dengue serotypes 1-4, in vaccinated subjects.
“This phenomenon, called Antibody Dependent Enhancement (ADE) of infection, has been shown to increase severity of Dengue infection in vivo, and is a safety concern for other Zika vaccines under development that utilize the structural Envelope (E) protein of ZIKV for their vaccine construct. GEO-ZM02 is based on the NS1 protein of ZIKV, which is not packaged into the virions and is not involved in ADE. Moreover, the NS1 protein is abundantly secreted into the blood of a ZIKV-infected individual and has been shown to play a critical role in flavivirus acquisition by mosquitoes by overcoming the immune barrier of the mosquito midgut. Therefore, GEO-ZM02 has the potential to protect both humans and mosquitoes from ZIKV infection; a novel vaccination strategy that could stem epidemics at a low vaccine coverage.”