Zika Vaccine May Not Be Too Far Off, But at What Cost?


Researchers from Beaumont hospital have developed a Zika virus diagnostic test that yields quick results. In addition, a Zika vaccine may be coming our way, but perhaps not in the way we hoped.

The Zika virus has been plaguing many countries in the Americas for over two years now. Although infection with the virus is usually mild, it can have severe consequences in developing fetuses, making it a dangerous diagnosis for pregnant women. Unfortunately, reliable results for Zika virus diagnostic testing can take weeks, and a vaccine is not yet available.

However, this may soon change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its Zika testing guidelines for asymptomatic pregnant women who may have been exposed to the virus either through travel or by living in an area with active Zika transmission. As of May 5, 2017, the CDC recommends that women who were possibly exposed to the virus but have not exhibited symptoms be tested using the Zika virus Immunoglobulin M (IgM) ELISA diagnostics test, as well as the Zika virus nucleic acid test (NAT). By administering these tests concurrently, physicians can accurately detect and diagnose recent Zika virus infection. However, these tests require doctor visits, as well as laboratory testing and confirmation, which may take time.

Now, doctors from Beaumont Hospital, led by Royal Oak urology scientist Laura Lamb, PhD, have developed a “quick, simple test” where you “don’t even need a doctor.” The new test uses a urine sample to detect Zika virus infection in as little as 30 minutes. The team’s findings were presented at the 2017 annual American Urological Association meeting. The test is currently in research phase, and is, therefore, not yet available for public use.

Commenting on the versatility of the test, Dr. Lamb said, “When we discovered we could reliably detect Zika virus in urine, we knew we had the potential to change lives all over the world… We are currently working on developing a urine-based test that would allow for rapid and accurate detection of not only Zika, but also viruses such as Dengue, yellow fever, Chikungunya, and West Nile virus,” adding that timely detection of such infections would allow for faster treatment, and may even “save lives.”

Then again, wouldn’t it be nice to have a Zika vaccine to prevent infection in the first place?

Last week, STAT reported that Sanofi, an international pharmaceutical company, declined the US Army’s request to lower Zika vaccine costs in the United States, a vaccine that would be sold exclusively by Sanofi. According to the news outlet, the vaccine is being developed using US taxpayer funds, in addition to an impending grant of $130 million. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) claims that this vaccine was originally developed by scientists from the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and supported by $40 million in grants from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

On Friday, it was announced that MSF filed a patent appeal with the US Department of Defense.

The organization stated, “MSF objects to the granting of an exclusive patent license on a U.S. government-funded invention to a single pharmaceutical company as well as to the lack of conditions to ensure the vaccine will be appropriately developed and made available and affordable to all patients and medical providers who administer vaccines in the U.S. and globally.”

In the fight against Zika, it seems that one step forward is another step back.

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