Thanks to travelers, Zika could be a $1B+ vaccine opportunity: Reuters

Though still years out, an effective Zika vaccine could beat a path to blockbuster sales, thanks to demand from travelers to endemic areas--which include some common tourist destinations. That's a key difference from the limited market prospects in other mosquito-borne diseases.

That blockbuster potential, plus an urgent medical need, has prompted a burst of R&D in the field, Reuters reports.

A Zika vaccine could reel in more than $1 billion in sales from “just a portion” of U.S. travelers, Inovio CEO J. Joseph Kim told the news service. And that's a conservative estimate, he said. Unlike residents of Zika-affected countries, who'd need vaccinations en masse, travelers would be able to pay a high price for protection, and thus are viewed as the most attractive market for a prospective shot.

That's not to say that endemic areas aren't their own opportunity, of course. Experts anticipate a vaccine would be used widely in girls to protect against the virus and its associated devastating birth defects. If boys are immunized, that could protect against future sexual transmission of the virus.

Though other mosquito-borne diseases can lead to hospitalizations and death, the thousands of microcephaly cases caused by Zika have served to raise the alarm on the virus, quickly boosting vaccine development efforts.

So far, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, Takeda and dozens of smaller companies and organizations have committed to Zika vaccine R&D. The National Institutes of Health and Inovio are in clinical trials with their candidates.

As Reuters notes, vaccines against malaria and West Nile virus--which have been around for decades--haven’t seen the same interest from pharma.

In dengue, though, Sanofi is in the midst of launching a vaccine that could break the mold. Following a development track that took 20 years and $1.5 billion, the company’s Dengvaxia has now won approval in 11 countries. The vaccine could reach $900 million in 2020 sales, according to Thomson Reuters, by following a sales plan that favors wide access in endemic countries.

But in the meantime, economic and political turmoil have hurt the rollout in Latin America. The vaccine turned in just €1 million in second-quarter sales this year, with execs at the time saying the company will likely miss a target of €200 million for 2016.

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