UH team’s Zika vaccine headed to human clinical trials

UH team’s Zika vaccine headed to human clinical trials

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a lab at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine, a Zika vaccine is stored at -112 degrees to keep the liquids safe for storage.

The vaccine has proven successful in protecting both mice and monkeys from the Zika virus, a disease that’s spread through mosquitoes and causes serious birth defects.

“It is exciting that we contribute to the field in this way,” said Axel Lehrer, assistant professor in Tropical Medicine.

Albert To, who’s getting his doctoral degree, was one of three UH students who helped created the vaccine with a protein that’s produced in the lab.

"I think it's great to be able to do something in the state of Hawaii and to produce something that is comparable to the ones on the mainland," said To.

Added Lehrer, “The monkey is basically showing that it should work in humans and the next step would be to take it into the clinic."

It took nine months to prevent the Zika virus in mice and 13 months to protect monkeys, which is considered lightning speed for vaccine research.

In late 2015, amid the height of global spike in Zika cases, Hawaii scientists say they knew they had to do something to help.

“Nobody was really prepared. Nobody was working on developing a vaccine," Lehrer said.

“What happened very quickly was because of the risk to pregnant women and their unborn children. The community decided we definitely need a vaccine.”

Now the researchers need more $1 million in additional funding to create enough vaccine for a human clinical trial.

“If there is somebody willing to invest in this, it could be taken into humans relatively quickly. Time is not the issue,” said Lehrer.

UH said there are about 30 vaccine candidates for the Zika vaccine and some are already being tested on humans, but Hawaii scientists believe their vaccine shows promise because it’s safe and only two immunizations are required.

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