Que­bec group test­ing Zika vac­cine on hu­mans

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - MOR­GAN LOWRIE

A Que­bec City-based re­search team has re­ceived the green light to be­gin test­ing a Zika vac­cine on hu­mans in col­lab­o­ra­tion with United States-based part­ners.

The re­searchers based at Univer­site Laval are the first in Canada to be au­tho­rized by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to con­duct clin­i­cal tests.

The univer­sity is one of three sites that hope to be­gin test­ing a vac­cine for the mos­quito-borne virus in the next few days.

The first phase of study in­volves ad­min­is­ter­ing the vac­cine to 40 vol­un­teers spread out over the three sites in Que­bec City, Mi­ami and Philadel­phia.

“In phase 1 we’re look­ing only at safety and im­muno­genic­ity, or the build­ing of im­mune pro­tec­tion,” Gary Kob­inger, di­rec­tor of Univer­site Laval’s In­fec­tious Dis­ease Re­search Cen­tre, said in in­ter­view Wed­nes­day.

“We look at im­mune re­sponses in those vol­un­teers and com­pare those to im­mune re­sponses we have doc­u­mented in an­i­mals that were pro­tected from the in­fec­tion.”

The team is look­ing to re­cruit be­tween 10 and 15 healthy vol­un­teers for the Cana­dian por­tion of the study.

Kob­inger said the DNA-based vac­cine has al­ready been tested “ex­ten­sively” on cells and an­i­mals such as mice, guinea pigs and primates.

Although most cases of Zika are fairly mild, the virus has been linked to mis­car­riages and birth de­fects in ba­bies born to women who have been in­fected.

Symp­toms can in­clude mild fever, skin rash, con­junc­tivi­tis, mus­cle and joint pain and headache, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The founder and CEO of Inovio Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, the Penn­syl­va­nia-based com­pany man­u­fac­tur­ing the vac­cine, says he is “very con­fi­dent” the tri­als would show good re­sults.

Joseph Kim said 100 per cent of the an­i­mal test sub­jects who were given the vac­cine showed pro­tec­tion from the virus.

The com­pany hopes to com­plete the first phase of test­ing within months.

The sec­ond phase, which will test for pro­tec­tive ef­fects in a larger group of vol­un­teers in an en­demic re­gion such the Caribbean or Latin Amer­ica, could be­gin by year’s end or early in 2017.

Kim said the de­vel­op­ers feel a sense of ur­gency as the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion has pro­jected more than four mil­lion peo­ple could be in­fected by the virus in those re­gions by the end of 2016.

“We’re pre­pared to go as quickly as our reg­u­la­tors al­low,” he told The Cana­dian Press.

He said the com­pany’s tech­nol­ogy, which uses snip­pets of DNA as a vac­cine and doesn’t re­quire any part of the ac­tual virus, means the vac­cine can be de­vel­oped from con­cep­tion to hu­man test­ing in un­der nine months.

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