President Barack Obama has requested emergency funding worth $1.8 billion from Congress, and some of that money would go toward the pursuit of a vaccine for the Zika virus according to CNN.
Now the question is how quickly such a vaccine could actually reach market, particularly with the need to subject it to clinical trials before making it available to the public at large.
Sanofi Pasteur, a French company that recently had its dengue fever vaccine approved, is hoping to translate its expertise into a solution for Zika. One of its scientists, Nicholas Jackson, noted that a, “typical vaccine takes about 10 years to develop,” but also expressed optimism about the current effort to CNN.
“We have a jump start here because we have experts in-house, technologies in-house,” he explained. “We have an infrastructure that we put in place around dengue vaccine we can tap into very quickly, which will hopefully take off (time from) the typical timeline.”
The only problem?
“We know very little about the biology of this virus,” Jackson added.
There are about 12 companies already hard at work on a vaccine for the Zika virus. One of them, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, recently announced that its vaccine SynCon has already shown promise against Zika when tested in mice.
“With robust antibody and killer T-cell responses generated by our vaccine in mice, we will next test the vaccine in nonhuman primates and initiate clinical product manufacturing,” said Dr. J. Joseph Kim, Inovio’s president and CEO. “We plan to initiate phase I human testing of our Zika vaccine before the end of 2016.”
While Zika is a generally mild virus compared to the likes of West Nile and malaria, the World Health Organization has declared a state of emergency after it was revealed that Zika in both South and now North America may be linked to microcephaly in unborn babies, which causes brain damage and reduces head size.
A vaccine is a precautionary measurement that protects the body (the immune system) from a particular virus in just a few doses. The bar is set extremely high for a vaccine approval (as it should be—no one wants to be killed by a vaccine) which is why it generally takes years and years of clinical trials and assessment periods before a vaccine can go on the market.
Along with the Zika virus, there are numerous mosquito borne viruses that we have yet to create a vaccine for (and some we have).
Dengue fever is another virus that’s transmitted by mosquitoes and while creating a vaccine is still in the late-stage clinical trial phase, the actual vaccine has been licensed for use in Mexico.
And you wonder why you have yet to meet someone who has yellow fever. The vaccine for the highly dangerous virus was created back in 1938. The virus would cause liver and kidney failure, bleeding, and jaundice which then leads to death.
When it was first discovered in the Americas and Southeast Asia, scientists put this virus in the same category as they placed Zika, meaning they thought it was fairly unimportant. However, over the past decade, it was discovered that Chikungunya causes extreme pain in the joints along with a fever that can last for months on end. A vaccine is just now entering clinical trials but is likely still years away from approval.
Malaria is the biggest, and probably scariest, virus currently in need of a better vaccine. The death toll from the virus is in the mid six-figures per year. There was a vaccine, known as the RTS.S vaccine, that was developed by Glaxo Smith Kline and was highly successful during the clinical trial phase. While it could reach the market relatively soon, the vaccine only provided partial protection, which has caused much debate over its value.