Associates in Action
National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline Pursue
Vaccine for Zika Virus
By Liz Roach, Development Coordinator
An increasingly globalized society has created unparalleled opportunities for Americans, professionally and personally. Along with the advantages, however, come certain public health challenges. As travelers embrace the ease of mobility and venture more frequently abroad, diseases have buckled up along with them on flights back home. As a result, health scares that initially seem locally contained can quickly become widespread pandemics with a global impact.
The latest threat is the Zika virus, which is spread primarily through mosquito bites. While Zika has a relatively mild effect on the typical victim, it can be a major risk to pregnant women, who can transmit the disease to their fetus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects, such as microcephaly, a birth defect where an infant is born with an abnormally small head. With new cases diagnosed every day and no recognized cure, the race is on for the creation of a vaccine.
Enter GlaxoSmithKline. The Fortune 500 company has teamed with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health to study a new vaccine technology called SAM, or self-amplifying mRNA. Beginning with laboratory-based studies, the team will work to examine the potential of this product to successfully protect against Zika. If the studies prove to be promising, GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK, hopes to accelerate to the next phase of testing.
“The idea of using genetic information, DNA or RNA, for vaccines has been around since the 1990s," said Rip Ballou, head of Glaxo's U.S. vaccine research and development center in Rockville, Maryland. "Figuring out how to get the RNA into the cell without being degraded, and at a high efficiency, has been key to making this possible. That's the work the company has done over the last four or five years. We think this is a very powerful technology."
Ballou said the pharmaceutical company anticipates having initial results in the next several months. "I think within six months we should be able to say something," he said. If testing looks promising, GSK plans to move to "clinical proof of concept" and consider beginning trials on people.
In addition, GSK is focused on promoting prevention as a means to contain the virus. The World Health Organization notes that 71 countries and territories have reported evidence of Zika virus transmission since 2015, indicating the urgency of inhibiting the virus’ spread.
Collaborating with the humanitarian organizations Save the Children and AmeriCares, GSK is helping implement prevention measures, such as providing hospital supplies and protection kits with mosquito repellant, along with facilitating education campaigns at the local community level in endangered areas.
As global diseases become a progressively common phenomenon, the commitment to execute coordinated public health measures will become more and more important.
Associates in Action articles highlight CSG Associates’ philanthropic efforts and public-private partnerships throughout the states.