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By Prof Arturo Reyes-Sandoval, Jenner Investigator

prof-arturo-reyes-sandoval.jfifZika virus is an emerging arthropodborne virus of the family Flaviviridae that has spread rapidly around the world. In early 2015, Zika virus reached Brazil and a remarkable epidemic of Zika virus infections occurred in the Americas, spreading throughout the continent. The expansion to over 39 countries in the Americas in only two years has prompted the WHO to declare Zika virus an international public health emergency due to its link to congenital malformations and neurological complications.

Major concerns in this epidemic are the Guillain-Barré syndrome documented from French Polynesia and a concurrent 20-fold increase in incidence of microcephaly during the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil between 2014 and 2015. This could potentially become the only flavivirus known to have teratogenic effects.

The link between Zika virus disease and fetal development highlights the need for pregnant women and those of reproductive age to be a priority group for developing and evaluating new vaccines and vaccine guidelines for Zika and other emerging infectious diseases. There is currently no vaccine or drugs to prevent Zika virus infection. At the Jenner Institute, the group led by Prof Arturo Reyes-Sandoval has initiated a programme to develop a Zika vaccine alongside Dr Cesar Lopez-Camacho, postdoctoral scientist in his team.

In collaboration with Dr Arvind Patel, Dr Alain Kohl and Prof Massimo Palmarini from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (CVR), they have received an award from the MRC UK Vaccine R&D Network to support the GMP manufacture and a Phase I clinical trial to assess the safety and immunogenicity of a Zika virus vaccine. The vaccine consists of a non-replicating simian adenoviral vector expressing the structural antigens of the Zika virus, with the aim of inducing strong humoral and cellular immune responses upon a single vaccination with no requirement for an adjuvant. Arturo Reyes-Sandoval’s team is expected to have a Zika vaccine ready for GMP production by November 2016 and proceed to clinical trials by April 2017.

dr-cesar-lopez-camacho-2.jfifDr Cesar Lopez-Camacho, Postdoctoral Researcher on the Zika Virus Vaccine Programme:

"After a PhD in the UK and postdoctoral training in molecular biology and gene expression in the USA, the Jenner Institute has offered me a unique framework for further developing my skills as a scientist.

I am privileged and thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved in the development of a Zika vaccine that is urgently needed around the globe.”