First potential Zika vaccine cleared for human trials

An experimental vaccine for the Zika virus is due to begin human testing in coming weeks, after getting the green light from U.S. health officials.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals said June 20 that it received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to begin early-stage safety tests of its DNA-based vaccine.

Inovio’s vaccine is intended to prime the immune system to fight Zika by introducing genetically engineered material that mimics the virus. Inovio reports that animals tested with the vaccine developed antibodies and immune-system cells that attack Zika.

Zika is spread mainly through the bite of an infected mosquito. It causes only a mild and brief illness, at worst, in most people. But it can cause fetal deaths and severe birth defects in the children of women infected during pregnancy.

Zika has become epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean since the fall of 2015, and cases are likely in the United States as mosquitos spread.

Now, Inovio and its partner, GeneOne Life Science, will undertake a 40-person study to determine the safest dose of the vaccine. Company officials said they expect results from the vaccine study by the end of 2016.

Currently there are no licensed drugs or vaccines for Zika.

Ultimately, confirming the safety and effectiveness of any Zika vaccine will require more and larger studies.

This article draws on reports from the Associated Press.