Novavax explores Zika vaccine R&D effort as virus continues to spread

Vaccine companies and research organizations worldwide continue to race against Zika, with a new entrant emerging in Gaithersburg, MD-based Novavax ($NVAX). The biotech announced it's conducting preliminary Zika research in a week that saw several other developments in the field.

Novavax SVP of R&D Gregory Glenn

On a conference call, SVP of R&D Gregory Glenn said Novavax hopes to rapidly progress "through animal studies and some early progress development activities," adding that it'll work with government and nongovernment groups to "determine the pathway forward to fund our large-scale production and clinical trials."

The race to advance vaccine prospects is only weeks old and includes players ranging from Big Pharma to smaller biotechs and government and nongovernment organizations. The frenzy started when Brazil reported a spike in microcephaly cases suspected to be linked to the virus, and now the World Health Organization states that more than 50 countries and territories have reported local transmission, Regulatory Focus said.

Also this week, the FDA approved the first Zika diagnostic under an emergency pathway, and President Barack Obama said there exists a "promising pathway" for a Zika vaccine.

The urgency of the outbreak prompted Sanofi ($SNY) to declare it's launching a Zika effort and other major pharmas--GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Pfizer ($PFE), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Merck ($MRK)--to consider the same. The WHO said last month that about 15 companies and organizations are participating in Zika vaccine R&D. Last week, San Diego's Inovio ($INO) said its candidate showed promise in mice, adding that it hopes to start a human trial by the end of the year.

Adding to the urgency, a group led by Institut Pasteur's Arnaud Fontanet published findings in The Lancet this week linking the virus with the neurological condition Guillain-Barré syndrome. Vox reports that the development comes as Zika-stricken countries have seen an increase in cases of the rare and sometimes fatal condition.

- here's the story on Novavax from the Washington Business Journal
- read the Regulatory Focus piece
- get more from Vox