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Friday, May 20th, 2022

NIH funds target Zika vaccine development

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $2 million R01 grant to a Virginia Tech research team to develop a single-dose Zika virus vaccine candidate.

“This grant focuses on a new strategy that we developed to produce safe and effective flavivirus vaccines,” Jonathan Auguste, an assistant professor in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said. “It aims to prevent the emergence of these viruses — in this case Zika virus — in humans.”

While Zika outbreaks of Zika virus, which they indicated originated in Africa, were once rare and isolated events, it arrived in the Americas in 2015 and rapidly spread to 27 countries within the span of a year. Outbreaks have now been recorded throughout Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, South America, and Central America.

As a means of developing its platform, officials said the Auguste Lab isolated a virus from mosquitoes able to replicate only in mosquito cells — meaning that it cannot infect mammals.

“It has a lot of advantages because it is exceptionally safe — if it can’t replicate, it causes no disease,” Auguste said. “It can’t acquire mutations to cause disease because its replication is defective. It grows really well in cell cultures, so it’s easily produced. You can get a really good immune response with just one vaccination.”

Authorities indicated in the next steps of vaccine development, Auguste and his colleagues will execute preliminary studies and compare their vaccine with other vaccine candidates.