Health agencies inform on Zika vaccine timeline

In a similar situation to the Ebola epidemic, the World Health Organization warns that any Zika vaccine may be developed too late to address the current epidemic. However, that isn't stopping work at the NIH and CDC, which are pleading for emergency funding so Zika research can progress and research in other areas doesn't get sidelined.

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci

At the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Director Anthony Fauci said a research group has progressed toward a vaccine that could be tested within a few months and begin its first clinical test by the end of the summer, according to a report in MedPage Today. The group's most advanced candidate is a DNA construct that encodes Zika antigens. The group built its vaccine from earlier work on a West Nile virus candidate and has others in progress.

Fauci and CDC Director Tom Frieden are asking Congress for emergency funding for Zika because the urgency of that outbreak has led other work into HIV, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus to be pushed off for lack of resources. Fauci has hinted that the NIH work may be unable to progress past Phase I without additional funding, MedPage Today reported.

Following a meeting last week, the World Health Organization said experts have prioritized vaccines for women of child-bearing age as well as other tools to diagnose the virus and reduce the spread. In a recent update, WHO said 18 companies and research institutions are working on Zika vaccines in response to the virus' frantic spread throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

The Zika R&D scramble is only months old, starting earlier this year when Brazil noted a spike of microcephaly cases reportedly linked to the virus. Now, the WHO has said that local Zika transmission has been reported in more than 50 countries or territories.

Sanofi ($SNY) is the largest private company to get involved, while peers Merck ($MRK), Pfizer ($PFE), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) have all said they're evaluating their options. WHO has previously said India's Bharat Biotech and the U.S. NIH are ahead in development, while Plymouth Meeting, PA's Inovio ($INO) recently said its candidate showed promise in mice; it's hoping to start a human trial by the end of the year.

- here's the MedPage Today report (sub. req.)
- read more from Reuters