University of Texas, Brazil to Develop Zika Vaccine Ready for Clinical Trials Within a Year

Brazil and the University of Texas signed an agreement to develop a Zika Virus vaccine. The vaccine may be on the way sooner than many health experts anticipated.

The goal is to have the vaccine ready for clinical trials within a year and market-ready in three years.

The Associated Press reported Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro announced the deal Thursday, saying that the Brazilian government will invest $1.9 million in the research. The research project will be jointly conducted by the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston and the Evandro Chagas Institute in the Amazonian city of Belem.

Brazilian officials previously said any Zika vaccine could take as many as five years. However, on Thursday, Castro said he was more optimistic, commenting it could be ready for distribution within three years. Previously, Breitbart News reported scientists believed an FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) approved vaccine might be at least a decade away, although an emergency shot could be available by year’s end.

Breitbart Texas’ Lana Shadwick reported UTMB was the largest research center for arboviruses vaccines. The Zika virus, like Dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile virus, and encephalitis all fall under the heading of arboviruses, which means they emanate from arthropods such as mosquitoes and ticks.

According to the Associated Press, Castro said the Health Ministry also reached vaccine partnerships with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and looks forward to working with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline because of its role in developing a vaccine against Ebola after the 2014 West African deadly outbreak.

Zika virus is a mild illness for most people, although Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare paralysis disease, increased during the 2014 French Polynesia Zika virus outbreak. However, pregnant women are most at-risk. Brazil’s Zika outbreak sparked a public health crisis. Researchers suspect a link to such devastating birth defects as microcephaly, where the in utero baby’s brain stops developing. Breitbart News reported Brazilian medical experts documented more than 4,000 cases of microcephaly, diagnosing 200 cases per week. Zika also may be connected to other poor pregnancy outcomes including vision birth defects.

Castro noted: “This isn’t just Brazil’s concern; it’s the world’s concern.”

In the United States, the CDC issued travel advisory warnings for pregnant women to the Zika affected Latin American countries and Caribbean islands. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported between January 2014 and Feb. 5, 2016, 33 countries with Zika virus cases and “indirect evidence of local transmission in six additional countries.”

Castro said WHO chief Margaret Chan is expected to visit Brazil on Feb. 23 to help coordinate the government’s response with other agencies around the world. An initial delegation of 15 researchers from the CDC arrive in Brazil on Friday, according to AP.

On Feb. 10, health experts testified before the Texas House of Representatives Public Health Committee suggesting the Lone Star State was poised to lead the charge in developing a Zika virus vaccine. Said Jennifer Herricks, postdoctoral fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine: “Texas has some of the best biomedical researchers in the world.” She added that the state has the largest medical center in the world as well as experts on tropical medicine “at our disposal,” Austin ABC-TV affiliate KVUE reported.

Dallas County health officials also announced plans to begin testing for Zika virus in their lab as soon as next week to “help get faster turnaround on tests for pregnant women who have traveled from those endemic countries,” said the county’s Health and Human Services (DCHHS) Director Zachary Thompson. In response to this news, Governor Greg Abbott tweeted “Texas is leading the effort to control Zika virus.”

Texas reported three new Zika cases this week. It braces for more test results still pending from the CDC. The only known sexually transmitted case of Zika in the U.S., to date came out of Dallas where a patient had contact with an infected partner who recently traveled to Venezuela. Last week, Abbott appointed a 31 member infectious disease preparedness and response task force to address the virus.

The most recent figures from the CDC show the 52 travel-related Zika cases in the United States. Nine additional cases came out of Puerto Rico and one in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper added the Zika virus to the list of infectious diseases threatening the nation, which include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Ebola. The White House asked Congress $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the virus, and the WHO declared the Zika outbreak to be a global emergency.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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