First trials for a vaccine against the human zika virus are on the horizon, as Inovio Pharmaceuticals in Pennsylvania and GeneOne Life Science in Korea just earlier today dosed its first subject in clinical trials of a Zika-fighting drug. The two entities have previously worked together to create vaccines for Ebola and MERS, both of which are currently being tested.
The Human Zika Virus was first discovered in 1947, and was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organization in February of this year. Primarily spread through bites from infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, this virus has gained momentum within the past year. Common symptoms of the zika virus are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Generally, this illness is mild, and many people don’t go to the doctor when these symptoms appear. However, there is concern the zika virus may cause encephaly in infants (babies born with abnormally small heads and, thus, abnormally small brains), as this virus can also spread through sexual contact as well as from a mother to her child in utero. Additionally, there have been correlations between zika and Guillame-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that can lead to paralysis. Although these links are yet to be scientifically proven, experts strongly suspect causality.
Because of the suspected causality and the increase in accounts of the virus, researchers around the world have been rushing to find a cure. Inovio and GeneOne received the go ahead from the U.S. FDA to start human studies on Monday, June 20, earlier this week, and the first round of participants has just begun. Previous trials in mice showed almost complete immunity for at least two months when injected with this new vaccine.
GLS-5700, the product’s working name, is a DNA vaccine. This means patients are injected with DNA coded to produce the protein that surrounds the Zika virus. Then, in a process called electroporation, they receive a short electrical pulse at the injection site which helps the DNA find its way into the cells. The cells start training the immune system to recognize Zika as a harmful invader and begin generating antibodies to work against the virus.
Although GLS-5700 is the first to receive approval, other companies are urgently working on vaccines as well. For instance, The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases turned in paperwork to the FDA on Monday and are awaiting approval to go to trial. While the quick approval of trials is great news, it could still be a few years before the vaccine becomes available to the general public. There are many stages of clinical trials before a vaccine can be released. Phase 1 of clinical trials ensures product safety and correct dosage, but does not reveal if a product is effective.
In the past, DNA vaccines for other viruses proved ineffective, however, with the addition of electroporation, trials look promising.
Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.