Biopharmaceutical Companies Announce Plans to Develop Zika Vaccine

February 2, 2016
Caroline Hroncich

Caroline Hroncich was associate editor for Pharmaceutical Technology, Pharmaceutical Technology Europe, and BioPharm International from 2015 to 2017.

Several biopharmaceutical companies announce plans to launch R&D into Zika vaccine candidates.

One day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a public health emergency of international concern during a Feb. 1, 2016 press conference, multiple biopharmaceutical companies have announced plans to jump start research into potential Zika vaccine candidates.

WHO is calling for a “coordinated international response” to the virus, which according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) may cause Gullian-Barré syndrome in pregnant women resulting in birth defects. The CDC issued travel notices earlier this year, advising pregnant woman to postpone travel plans to countries where the virus has spread, including Central and South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, Cape Verde, and the Pacific Islands. During the press conference, WHO announced that the virus had now spread to 26 countries and territories in the Americas.

Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, announced its plan to launch R&D projects into vaccine candidates for the disease. The company recently received marketing authorization in Mexico for a vaccine for dengue, the first vaccine to be licensed for the viral infection.

“Sanofi Pasteur is responding to the global call to action to develop a Zika vaccine given the disease’s rapid spread and possible medical complications,” Nicholas Jackson, PhD, global head of research and leader of the Zika project for Sanofi Pasteur, said in a statement. “In addition to the serious possibility of congenital complications associated with Zika, investigations are also underway to assess another reported connection between Zika and a dangerous neurological disorder.”

According to a report by Reuters, Sanofi’s announcement “marked the most decisive commitment yet by a major vaccine producer.” Other biotech companies and academic institutions also have plans to develop Zika vaccines. NewLink Genetics, a biopharmaceutical company focused on developing immune-oncology products, announced on Feb. 2, 2016 that the company would also be developing a Zika vaccine. Similarly, the University of Australia announced a partnership with biopharmaceutical company Sementis Ltd to develop a vaccine. According to Reuters, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline also joined the conversation, saying the company was conducting studies of its own vaccine technology to determine suitability for a Zika vaccine.