In the UK, the University of Liverpool is leading a major collaborative project to develop a Zika virus vaccine that is suitable for use during pregnancy.
The research, which is supported by the Department of Health and Social Care and managed by Innovate UK, aims to take two new vaccine candidates through to a clinical trial in humans within the next three years.
Despite the fact that pregnant women are the population at highest risk of a Zika virus infection due to its ability to cause severe foetal birth defects, no approved vaccine or treatment is currently available.
The researchers plan to collaborate with the University of Manchester, Public Health England (PHE) and industry to confirm the safety of two new vaccine candidates, based on a safe derivative of a pre-existing smallpox vaccine. They will then move into Phase 1a first-in-human studies at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital's Clinical Research Unit.
“Although the current Zika outbreak has slowed, there remains a significant risk of foetal abnormality when pregnant mothers become infected, and the changing climate raises the possibility of major epidemics occurring in previously unaffected parts of the world,” said Professor Neil French, who is leading the study alongside Dr Lance Turtle (University of Liverpool and Royal Liverpool University Hospital), Dr Tom Blanchard (University of Manchester and Royal Liverpool University Hospital) and Professor Miles Carroll (PHE). “A ready to use vaccine would dramatically reduce the threat that we face from Zika."