Scientists from US Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) have collaborated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, Massachusetts, to conduct preclinical research on a Zika vaccine candidate.
The collaborators are also planning to commence testing on human beings before the end of the year.
According to WRAIR Operations former deputy commander and Zika Programme lead Dr Stephen Thomas, the research process has gone quickly as the researchers are aware of their flaviviruses, which include the mosquito-borne viruses that cause dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and Zika virus diseases.
Dr Stephen Thomas said: "Zika is a flavivirus, and we have been working on flaviviruses our entire history – since 1893 [on yellow fever].
"So it’s in our DNA to work on flaviviruses, and we’ve been doing vaccine development for flaviviruses since World War II."
Active Zika virus transmission is being tracked by the US National Public Health Institute, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), across 39 countries and territories in the Americas, eight in Oceania and the Pacific Islands, and one in the western African island nation of Cape Verde.
Thomas added: "When we started to see signals of increased Zika activity in southeast Asia a couple of years ago, it made sense that when we really started to see the uptick in activity in Central and, primarily, South America, we should bring our subject-matter expertise and our capabilities to bear as part of the whole-of-US-government response.
"There’s a race to get this done as quickly as possible because there’s a public health emergency going on."
WRAIR is working on the vaccine in partnership with other US government agencies that include the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with other pharmaceutical companies.
The vaccine will comprise a killed strain of the zika virus that is circulating now in South America.
WRAIR functions as the largest biomedical research facility managed by the US Department of Defense (DoD).
Image: A female Aedes aegypti mosquito, primarily responsible for the spread of Zika virus. Photo: courtesy of Centres for Disease Control / Health.mil.