Vaxart, Immunovaccine, Mayo Clinic jump onto Zika vaccine bandwagon

Zika research

Widening the field further, Vaxart, Immunovaccine and Mayo Clinic are joining a slew of biotechs and pharmas either exploring or embarking on Zika vaccine development.

Marianne Stanford

Nova Scotia, Canada-based Immunovaccine, which focuses on vaccines against cancer and infectious diseases, plans to establish partnerships with manufacturers to produce an antigen it has identified for the Zika virus. Its DepoVax technology has the potential to trigger "very rapid immune responses" and eliminate the need for booster doses, director of research Marianne Stanford told FierceVaccines.

As for Vaxart, the South San Francisco-based biotech initiated preclinical trials for its oral Zika vaccine tablet last week. Because it's a recombinant vaccine, Vaxart can easily insert a novel antigen, like Zika, into it and come up with a novel vaccine construct within weeks, or days in some cases, Wouter Latour, Vaxart CEO, told FierceVaccines.

Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group is teaming up with the Butantan Institute in Brazil to develop a Zika vaccine, according to the South Florida Reporter.

Vaxart and Immunovaccine highlight stability as a unique selling point of their candidates. Stanford added that Immunovaccine's platform provides enhanced stability because it formulates its oil-based vaccines without water. The biotech hopes to build on its DepoVax progress in the areas of Ebola, anthrax and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). And by virtue of being a solid tablet, Vaxart's vaccine is temperature-stable and can be shipped and stored without refrigeration. The company is currently working on tablet vaccines for RSV, norovirus and seasonal influenza.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reported Tuesday that sexual transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus is "more common than previously thought," according to reports from several countries. Nine countries have reported increased cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, the Associated Press reported, while Johns Hopkins researchers said they found a likely biological link between the Zika virus and microcephaly in babies.

Sanofi ($SNY), the first Big Pharma to announce a commitment to Zika vaccine development, has fleshed out its game plan. It is hoping to significantly cut down the amount of time it would take to get a vaccine to market by using its dengue vaccine expertise as a starting point. The WHO identified India's Bharat Biotech and the National Institutes of Health as the leaders in the race for a Zika vaccine, while Pennsylvania's Inovio ($INO) announced success in a mouse study.

- here's the Vaxart release
- and here's the Immunovaccine release
- here's more about Mayo Clinic
- and more from Johns Hopkins

Eric Sagonowsky contributed to this story.