Inovio says Zika vaccine shows promise in mice and shoots for human trial by year-end

While it doesn't yet market any products, Inovio ($INO) continues to be the Zika vaccine front-runner, reporting that its experimental jab induced a "robust and durable" immune response in mice.

Inovio CEO J. Joseph Kim

"With robust antibody and killer T cell responses generated by our vaccine in mice, we will next test the vaccine in non-human primates and initiate clinical product manufacturing," Inovio CEO Joseph Kim said in a statement last week. "We plan to initiate phase I human testing of our Zika vaccine before the end of 2016."

San Diego, CA-based Inovio is using its SynCon technology to produce a DNA vaccine for Zika. Inovio has previously demonstrated immunogenicity with its SynCon vaccines for dengue and West Nile virus, both of which belong to the same virus family as Zika.

However, the WHO has cautioned that large-scale human trials are at least 18 months away, and NIAID Director Anthony Fauci doesn't expect a Zika vaccine to be widely available for a few years. A slew of smaller biotechs is developing Zika vaccines, including PaxVax, GeoVax Labs, and Protein Sciences. Sanofi ($SNY) has committed to developing a vaccine, while GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Pfizer ($PFE), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Merck ($MRK) are all considering joining the race.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization, having declared the Zika outbreak a global public health emergency at the beginning of this month, called for $56 million to combat the virus. The funding will go toward virus control, diagnostics, research into how the virus spreads and fast-tracking vaccines, Reuters reported.

The WHO wants $25 million for itself and its regional office, while the remainder will go to aid partners like UNICEF, Reuters reported. While it continues to seek the funds, the organization is tapping $2 million in an emergency contingency fund.

The WHO Contingency Fund for Emergencies is relatively new, having been established in May 2015. Georgetown University professor Lawrence Gostin criticized the organization's preparedness, saying it had "grossly underestimated" the need for such funding and comparing it to the WHO's slow response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014-15.

- here's Inovio's release
- read more from Reuters