Engility to conduct Chikungunya vaccine trials under $10M U.S. Army contract

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After tying the knot with Sanofi on testing a Zika vaccine candidate, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research has enlisted Engility for a $10 million project testing vaccines designed to fight the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus.

Engility won the 5-year contract under a $900 million U.S. Army medical product research and development pact. With the money, Engility will also conduct tests of Themis’ Chikungunya vaccine candidate, which the biotech says is the “most advanced” vaccine of its kind, in Puerto Rico, as supported by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Symptoms of a Chikungunya infection include severe fever and joint pain, which are sometimes very similar to dengue fever, thus making diagnosis difficult. Though the acute signs usually dissipate in less than two weeks, the infection can lead to chronic joint pain--a complication that distinguishes it from dengue.

Chikungunya virus was first isolated in 1953 and has sparked sporadic outbreaks, mainly in Africa and Asia. But there still isn't a marketable vaccine to combat it.

Toward the end of last century, scientists with the U.S. Army had a candidate--and a promising one at that. As the Phase II study on the candidate published in 2000 in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene shows, 57 out of 58 evaluable participants developed an antibody by day 28. Research on that vaccine was suspended, however, because of lack of funding and interest.

It might be no coincidence that the U.S. Army is picking up developing the vaccine, as the disease recently started spreading in the U.S. It first became a nationally notifiable condition, registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015. As the agency’s data show, as of October 4, a total of 90 Chikungunya cases have been reported in 31 states this year.

Virginia-based Engility is a longtime contractor to the U.S. defense and national security system. The services it provides sprawl from healthcare to space missions to information security.

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