Federal officials have advanced a key way to combat the zika virus, permitting clinical trials of a vaccine against the tropical infection.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the preliminary testing of GLS-5700, an experimental vaccine by Inovio, of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., and GeneOne Life Science, of Seoul, South Korea.
It is the first but not the only vaccine-based effort to attack zika, a rapidly spreading viral infection that afflicts most people in relatively mild fashion (fever, chills, muscle pains) but can cause severe deformities for the unborn if pregnant moms are exposed. Brazil, in particular, has struggled with hundreds of children born with microcephaly after their mothers were zika-exposed.
As I have written, researchers had optimism that they could get an effective zika vaccination in the works quickly because they already had experienced some success with an inoculation for a related tropical bane, dengue fever. An experimental dengue shot already has been licensed in Mexico.
A zika vaccine still would need to go through many testing and safety steps before it could be used widely, especially because one of the group of patients most needing its protection is pregnant moms.
But public health officials have expressed major concern about how they will deal with the growing number of zika infections (the disease is affecting 60 nations) and the incidences of children with birth defects born to infected mothers; U.S. officials say they know of more than 200 cases of expectant moms who were exposed to the disease and a half dozen instances where children, only half of whom survived, were born with birth defects.