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NIH Funds Zika Research on US Olympic Team While US Army Collaborates on Vaccine Development

JUL 06, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
Concerns over Zika have been ongoing since it’s spread in South America in 2015; yet, there is still much we don’t know about the virus, and what infection entails. Because protection against this mysterious virus is essential, as is a need to understand it, researchers have been using the resources that are available to learn more about Zika and how to prevent infection. 

Zika Vaccine Development

Recent testing guidelines for Zika have raised concern among healthcare professionals; therefore, preventing initial infection is of the utmost importance.
In a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), vaccines global business unit of Sanofi, Sanofi Pasteur, will begin co-development of a vaccine candidate for the Zika virus. The agreement* states that WRAIR will provide Sanofi Pasteur with its Zika purified inactivated virus (ZPIV) vaccine technology, as well as present the company with several key materials for vaccine development: 
  • Immunologic assay development data which will aid in measuring neutralizing antibody responses after an individual has been naturally infected with the virus and subsequently received ZPIV vaccination
  • Biologic samples collected during primate studies
  • Biologic samples collected using ZPIV during studies measuring human safety and immunogenicity 
The pharmaceutical company is tasked with creating a clinical development and regulatory strategy, as well as producing clinical material, which complies with Good Manufacturing Practices, “to support phase II testing, optimization of the upstream process to improve production yields, and characterization of the vaccine product.” Sanofi Pasteur will be conducting studies using the WRAIR technology while simultaneously using vaccine technologies which were successfully used for Dengue and Japanese encephalitis in pre-clinical studies.
While this is the first collaboration between United States government and private sector on a Zika vaccine, it is not the first attempt to develop a Zika vaccine. Last month, Inovio Pharmaceuticals partnered with GeneOne Life Science to begin human testing of a DNA vaccine (GLS-5700) in a phase I trial. Trial results will be announced later this year. 

Zika Funding in the United States

In what has been a prolonged debate between Republican and Democrat representatives, a Zika funding bill is due for a re-vote, before Congress’ impending summer recess. The proposed bill aims to repurpose funds from both the Ebola and Obamacare programs, and hinder the use of such funds by any family planning organizations, such as Planned Parenthood. Although there is a possibility that the bill will be passed, President Obama has stated that he will veto the funding plan. The outcome is yet to be seen.
Regarding the government funding, Stephen Redd, MD, director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (OPHPR) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Contagion in an exclusive interview, “There are scientific questions that really won’t get answered unless we have the funding. We really won’t be able to protect the American people to the extent that we can, from the technology standpoint, without that funding.”
In the meantime, the CDC has decided to provide US states and territories with $25 million in funds in order to help them prepare for a possible Zika outbreak. The CDC has provided the aforementioned amount to 53 state, city, and territorial health departments. The funds were made available for Fiscal Year 2016 starting July 1, 2016 through June 2017.

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