Zika Virus Antibody mAbProkarium has announced the start of its programme to develop an oral vaccine against Zika virus infection. Using the company’s know-how in synthetic biology, the new vaccine will be active against both modes of Zika transmission — insect-borne (antibody mediated) and sexually transmitted (mucosal and cell-mediated) infections – the first to do so.

Zika is spreading fast. According to the World Health Organization, 67 countries and territories have reported evidence of mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission since 2015. Sexual transmission also complicates the spread of the disease in areas where people are being bitten by mosquitoes such as Brazil and Colombia.

In fact, Zika’s ability to spread through sexual contact means that all countries are at risk, whether Zika mosquitoes are found there or not. A vaccine that protects against both transmission routes is the only way to offer the maximum safeguard and stop the spread.

Prokarium’s CEO Ted Fjällman commented: “We use a safe bacterium, which is swallowed and then enters into the immune cells of the gut lining to produce vaccine there. The oral delivery means that we kick-start mucosal immunity, the body’s first defence against infection in the gut, nose or vaginal tract, for example. The production of vaccine from within immune cells means that our approach causes few or zero side-effects, while crucially initiating cellular immunity, which is very important for combatting viruses such as Zika.”

Steve Chatfield, Chairman of Prokarium, added: “The Small Business Research Initiative innovation procurement contract is from the UK Department of Health and the UK Vaccine Network, administered by Innovate UK. It will help Prokarium and our partner, Public Health England, to develop an orally delivered Zika vaccine. This places Prokarium at centre-stage of a few selected organisations that will help the UK to build an independent rapid response capability against emerging epidemics.”

Prokarium’s Zika project is a one-year programme starting 1 October 2016 and aims to show preclinically that the vaccine can protect against vaginal Zika challenge. If successful, it is anticipated that a Phase I clinical trial could be started in 2018. The project is a part of a £2 million funding received for developing three vaccines against plague (anti-bioterror), bacterial diarrhoea and Zika.