GeoVax Labs, Inc., a biotechnology company developing human vaccines, announced that it has begun a vaccine program for the prevention of Zika virus infections using its Modified Vaccinia Virus Ankara-Virus Like Particle (MVA-VLP) vaccine platform.
Zika virus is a member of the Flaviviridae family, which includes dengue fever, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, tick-borne encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. There is an alarming association between Zika infections and severe birth defects, including over 4000 cases of microcephaly in Brazil since fall 2015, 270 of which show confirmed evidence of infection.
Microcephaly is a congenital condition marked by an abnormally small head and incomplete brain development. A potential link to Zika infection is also suspected in adults diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that can cause paralysis.
GeoVax’s Senior Vice President of Research and Development, Farshad Guirakhoo, PhD, will lead the company’s effort in developing a Zika virus vaccine. Dr. Guirakhoo played pivotal roles in the development and licensure of human vaccines against Flaviviruses including dengue and Japanese encephalitis.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to develop a Zika vaccine. We will draw on lessons learned on the decades-long path to a successful dengue vaccine and develop a vaccine against Zika in the shortest time possible,” stated Dr. Guirakhoo.
“We believe our MVA-VLP vaccine platform is uniquely suited to apply to the Zika virus. Our platform has been proven to produce in vivo non-infectious virus-like particles (VLPs) for both our HIV and Ebola vaccines, and we are confident we can demonstrate the same with Zika,” commented Robert McNally, PhD, GeoVax’s President and CEO. “Producing VLPs in the very person being vaccinated mimics a natural infection, stimulating the humoral and cellular arms of the immune system to recognize, prevent, and control the target infection.”
GeoVax has also entered into a Collaborative Research Agreement with the University of Georgia to speed development of the vaccine. UGA infectious disease researchers, led by Ted Ross, PhD, director of UGA’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology, will develop vaccine antigens that elicit broadly reactive immunity against Zika viruses from different lineages and test those vaccines in pre-clinical models.
“Our group in the Center for Vaccines and Immunology has been focusing on developing vaccines to emerging viral agents. We are excited to partner with GeoVax and merge our technologies to develop an efficacious vaccine against Zika virus,” said Dr. Ross.