Aussie researchers in zika virus breakthrough
Adelaide University researchers have made a major breakthrough in the fight against zika virus by developing a vaccine that has proven successful on mice.
They say it could potentially lead to global elimination of the disease.
The 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, say the introduction of an effective vaccine for zika will prevent infection of pregnant women and the resultant congenital effects in the unborn child.
Zika is a mosquito-transmitted "flavivirus" that can cause birth defects including microcephaly - where a baby's head is significantly smaller than expected - in infants born to infected mothers.
Dr Grubor-Bauk said the vaccine had 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,'' she said.
"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. 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 research has taken years to reach this landmark with help from funding from National Foundation for Medical Research and Innovation and ongoing funding from The Hospital Research Foundation.
The work was done in collaboration with eminent global vaccine researcher Professor Dan Barouch, Director of Harvard Medical School's Centre for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, as well as Adelaide's Professor Sarah Robertson, Director of the Robinson Research Institute, University of Adelaide, and other scientists from the universities of Adelaide, South Australia and Flinders.
Dr Grubor-Bauk said the next steps are to advance the vaccine to being ready for Phase I human clinical trials.
"This involves further pre-clinical studies to identify the most effective dosing and demonstrate protection against zika infection in different pre-clinical models of the disease," she said.
"The goal is to de-risk and create an attractive technology with a strong IP position, for licensing or co-development with a commercial partner.
"We are grateful to The Hospital Research Foundation which has been instrumental in their support of our research over this time. We could not have reached this point without them."
The findings have been published in the leading international journal Science Advances.