Breakthrough in Zika virus vaccine

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have made significant advances in developing a novel vaccine against Zika virus, which could potentially lead to global elimination of the disease.

The virology team, led by Professor Eric Gowans and Dr Branka Grubor-Bauk – based at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research and supported by The Hospital Research Foundation – has developed a vaccine that prevents Zika infection in pre-clinical models of the disease. Their findings have been published today in the leading international journal Science Advances. Zika is a mosquito-transmitted ‘flavivirus’ which can cause microcephaly (a birth defect where a baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected) and severe birth defects in infants born to infected mothers. The introduction of an effective vaccine for Zika will prevent infection of pregnant women and the resultant congenital effects in the unborn child.

Dr Grubor-Bauk, senior research officer with the Adelaide Medical School, said the team had developed a novel vaccine against Zika that proved effective in mouse models. “This is the first vaccine study that shows that a T cell-based vaccine can confer protection against a systemic Zika infection. Our vaccine offers an advantage over other vaccines in development by eliminating the ongoing concerns in the field about enhancement of infection following exposure to dengue virus”, she said. This finding demonstrates for the first time that protective T cell vaccines against Zika are achievable.

“Zika virus is extremely detrimental if you’re pregnant and there has been no therapy or vaccine available to date. If we can progress this work and immunise women who are of reproductive age and most at risk, we can stop the devastating effects of Zika infection in pregnancy and make a huge difference to the health of the global community.”

“The next steps are to advance the vaccine to being ready for Phase I human clinical trials. This involves further pre-clinical studies which are vitally important to identify the most effective dosing and demonstrate protection against Zika infection in different pre-clinical models of the disease,” Dr Grubor-Bauk said.

The findings of this study will also greatly inform other research in the development of flavivirus vaccines by shifting the focus of vaccine development from viral envelope and antibody-based vaccines to T-cell based vaccines.

Illustration of Zika virus in blood

(Source: © Kateryna_Kon / Adobe Stock)

Original published by Science daily slight modification