Seoul, South Korea based DNA vaccine developer GeneOne Life Science yesterday announced the initiation of a collaborative research program with Inovio Pharmaceuticals to test and advance a DNA-based vaccine for preventing and treating the emerging and virulent Zika virus infection.
Inovio and its collaborators are leveraging their past experience in designing and testing novel DNA-based vaccines for related viruses including the West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya viruses. Moreover, Inovio and GeneOne are currently collaborating on two phase I stage vaccine candidates for severe infectious diseases: INO-4212, a vaccine for Ebola infection and GLS-5300, a vaccine for MERS infection. The Zika virus vaccine candidate is currently undergoing preclinical animal studies to evaluate its immunogenicity.
Mr. Young K. Park, CEO, GeneOne Life Science, said, “We are moving rapidly with Inovio and our academic collaborators to test a vaccine for this fast-spreading viral disease causing major birth defects in newborns. We aim to be on the front line of defense against major emerging infectious disease such as Ebola, MERS and now the Zika virus.”
Zika virus is a flavivirus, a family of viruses which includes yellow fever, dengue, and the West Nile viruses which are introduced to people through mosquito bites. The species of mosquito that carry Zika can also carry both dengue virus and chikungunya with reports of persons getting these infections simultaneously. The most common symptoms of the Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis. More seriously, a link to severe birth defects called microcephaly have recently been observed resulting from infected mothers. Microcephaly is a rare condition marked by an abnormally small head and is associated with incomplete brain development.
First identified in Uganda, Zika virus subsequently spread to equatorial Asia, and over the past 2 years has rapidly spread through the South Pacific including Hawaii and to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Because the Aedes species mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found throughout the world, it is likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries. In fact, new cases of the Zika virus infection have already been confirmed in Colorado, Texas, Hawaii, Florida, and Illinois. All of the Zika cases to date in the U.S. involve foreign travel, including some pregnant women.
This month the U.S. Centers for Disease Control advised pregnant women to avoid travel to 14 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, Mexico and Haiti. The biggest outbreak has been reported in Brazil, the location for the 2016 Olympics, where over 4,000 children have been born with microcephaly from the Zika virus infection over the past two years. Officials there are urging women to delay pregnancy until the crisis is under control. There is also a concern that Zika can spread sexually – as has been reported for some returning travelers. There is no vaccine and no course of treatment for the Zika virus.