Nova Scotia's Immunovaccine has teamed with national security contractor Leidos for Zika vaccine research in an approach that the pair hopes can expedite vaccine development during rapid disease outbreaks.
Through the deal, Leidos will handle antigen discovery with its Virtual Pharmaceutical Development Program, while Immunovaccine will formulate promising candidates in its DepoVax adjuvanting delivery platform. After the team identifies candidates, the pair will conduct animal studies in conjunction with Dr. Gary Kobinger of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory.
Immunovaccine CEO Frederic Ors noted in an interview that Kobinger, a noted Ebola scientist, is "always working on emerging viruses in the world," and has animal models the team will benefit from. "This is going to be very useful when we are ready because this is going to speed up the entire process," he said.
The team hopes the model will be replicable to improve on the current speed of vaccine development in the face of fast-moving outbreaks. The pairing comes as numerous companies race to create vaccines and as Zika has reportedly spread in 50 countries and territories worldwide. WHO has said that 18 companies and organizations are working on vaccines.
As with Ebola, some experts have voiced frustration with the scramble to create vaccines following the identification of an epidemic, leaving communities vulnerable to disease.
At a White House briefing this week, NIAID Director Anthony Fauci reported that the first Zika vaccine candidate is on track to enter clinical trials in September. During that event, U.S. health officials warned that Zika is "scarier" than initially thought, with the mosquitoes that spread the virus in 30 states.
The officials are pressing Congress to pass about $1.9 billion in emergency Zika funding or work in other disease areas will be tabled.