Early trials of an experimental Zika vaccine showed promise, safely triggering an immune response geared towards the Zika virus. The trial, by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, induced the response in human volunteers who have not been infected with Zika. Inovio’s shares rose by 6.6 percent on Wednesday, up to $7.39.
The trials are attempting to address a virus that has spread to more than 60 countries since the current outbreak was first identified in Brazil. The virus can lead to microcephaly, a birth defect, and other neurological problems in both infants and adults. So far, there are no approved treatments or vaccines for the virus. Zika is spread through infected mosquitos, making it difficult to control without a vaccine.
In the trial, forty volunteers showed Zika-specific immune system responses after one or two vaccinations, according to Inovio. The company added that there were no significant safety issues in the 14 weeks after the first doses. The DNA vaccine was injected along with a low voltage electronic pulse that triggers cell membrane to open, intended to make them more receptive to genetic material from the vaccine.
Inovio and their partners GeneOne Life Science were approved for the trials by US regulators in June, after the World Health Organization declared Zika a global public health emergency in February.
Zika was first identified in Uganda, after which it spread to equatorial Asia. Within just the last two years, it spread rapidly to the South Pacific, and to South and Central America. Zika is a flavivirus, a member of the same family as yellow fever, dengue, and West Nile – viruses which are also spready by way of mosquito bites. The species of mosquito that transmits Zika is found throughout the world, raising concerns that Zika could continue to spread to new regions. Zika can also be sexually transmitted, and transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus, causing microcephaly and other birth defects. Areas affected by Zika have also seen increased reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which is a rare nervous system disease.
Symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, and headache. For the most part, symptoms do not require hospitalization, and deaths from Zika are extremely rare.