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New Zika vaccine shows promise in human clinical trials

New Zika vaccine shows promise in human clinical trials

Even more good news: As Zika cases wane, the CDC closes its Emergency Operations Center for the disease.

Finally, some good news to report this week!

American researchers are reporting that a Zika vaccine is showing promising results in early stage human trial.

DNA-based Zika vaccine from Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc and South Korea’s GeneOne Life Science Inc induced anti-Zika immune responses in an early stage human trial, U.S. researchers reported on Wednesday.

Unlike conventional vaccines, which often use inactivated or killed versions of a virus, the Inovio-GeneOne shot is a synthetic vaccine made by reproducing sections of the Zika virus genome in a lab, and then loading them onto a ring of genetic material called a plasmid.

This vaccine is then injected beneath the skin and followed up with a device that generates electrical impulses, creating small pores in cells that allow the DNA to pass into cells.

The objective of this vaccine system is to uses Zika genomes reproduced in the lab to force the human body to create Zika-specific antibodies that can effectively combat the live virus. The first trial involving mice showed antibody production, and all 40 human volunteers also generated Zika-specific antibodies.

“Everybody made antibodies,” said Dr. Pablo Tebas, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pennsylvania who led the study.

To see if these antibodies could be protective against the virus, blood from immunized study participants was injected into mice who were then exposed to Zika. Animals that had received the Zika-specific antibodies were protected.

“When we gave mice serum from the same people before they got the vaccine, they were not protected. The mice died,” Tebas said in a telephone interview.

Tebas said the study shows how nimble synthetic DNA vaccines can be, noting that it took just seven months from the time the vaccine was first designed until the start of the clinical trial. “This technique of making DNA vaccines is very fast,” he said.

Tebas further indicated that the formal study will continue for 60 weeks to test the durability of the vaccine response, and final results should be available in the next 2 to 3 months. Furthermore, this particular vaccine could be used for the most vulnerable group for Zika: Pregnant women.

Dr Tebas agreed that more safety data are needed, but said that DNA vaccines (because they do not involve live virus) are likely to be safe for use during pregnancy, and that possible transfer of infection to the fetus should not be an issue, as one might worry with a viral based vaccine.

In other, related news: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has closed its Zika Emergency Operations Center for Zika.

With Zika waning in the Caribbean and South America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Friday that the federal agency was deactivating the command center for monitoring and coordinating emergency response to the virus.

The CDC’s Emergency Operations Center for Zika response was activated in January 2016 in response to the public health threat as the virus spread rapidly through South America and the Caribbean.

But now, the federal agency said, it will handle the response to Zika as a “routine, long-term activity,” noting that the virus still poses a danger because it can cause birth defects and neurological problems in children born to women infected during pregnancy.

As we enter into the final quarter of 2017, only Texas has reported a mosquito-borne case of Zika. Given the hurricane-impacted areas of both Texas and Florida (the location of the greatest number of American cases), this is even more good news I am glad to be able to report.


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