Biotech company GeoVax Labs (OTCMKTS: GOVX) has teamed up with the University of Georgia to speed up development of a vaccine for the prevention of infection from the Zika virus.
GeorgeVax, established primarily to develop an effective and safe vaccine against HIV-1, ultimately aims to create vaccines for many serious human diseases for which none currently exist, such as Zika. It will use its MVA-VLP vaccine platform in the quest and hopes to rapidly advance a vaccine to human clinical testing.
On February 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Zika virus and its suspected complications in newborns an international public health emergency. The Zika epidemic, currently in 24 countries in the Americas, is transmitted by the Aedes mosquito and is expected by the WHO to reach most of the Western Hemisphere, infecting up to 4 million people by year's end.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel advisory for people traveling to regions within the Zika virus outbreak, which include popular vacation destinations. Brazil, the site of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, is included in the advisory. More than 30 cases have been reported in the United States, imported by travelers visiting affected regions.
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. His experience and expertise with Flavivirus vaccine development gives the company an advantage over competitors and will shorten the time until a Zika vaccine can be brought to market by GeoVax and its partners, the company said.
In that vein, GeoVax has entered into a Collaborative Research Agreement with the University of Georgia.
Other than mosquito control, no approved preventive or therapeutic products are currently available to fight Zika infections. Public health officials recommend avoiding exposure to Zika, delaying pregnancy, and following basic supportive care after infection. A vaccine is urgently needed to prevent a Zika pandemic.
On Wednesday, media reported an incidence of Zika being spread through sexual contact, in a case in Dallas, United States.
Shares in Atlanta-based GeoVax advanced 21%, or 2 cents, to US$0.10.