Axel Lehrer, at right, supervises graduate student/researcher Albert To in the Lehrer Lab.

Researchers at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa have successfully developed a vaccine candidate for the Zika virus, showing that it is effective in protecting both mice and monkeys from the infection.

Axel Lehrer

Demonstrating the effectiveness of their vaccine candidate in monkeys (non-human primates) is an important milestone since it typically predicts whether the vaccine will work in humans, enabling further clinical development.

A strong global initiative to battle Zika has produced more than 30 vaccine candidates since outbreaks in 2015–2016 in Brazil linked the infection in some pregnant women to severe birth defects in their newborns. Zika is spread by the bite of infected mosquitos and through sex.

There is no treatment or cure for Zika nor is any vaccine currently approved for public use.

The proposed vaccine reported by scientists at JABSOM in the journals Frontiers in Immunology and mSphere, via the open access American Society for Microbiology journal, is a recombinant subunit vaccine that uses only a small part (protein) of the Zika virus, produced in insect cells.

“We believe our vaccine candidate shows much promise, particularly as it showed to require only two immunizations given three weeks apart and is a potentially safer alternative to other candidates already in clinical trials,” said Axel Lehrer, JABSOM assistant professor in tropical medicine and infectious diseases.

Lehrer thinks the vaccine his team proposes might be safer that other candidate vaccines, especially since pregnant women are a significant part of the target population for the Zika vaccine.

The JABSOM research team included two senior graduate students, Liana Medina and Albert To, who were lead authors of the scientific research papers.

Honolulu-based Hawaiʻi Biotech is a key partner in the vaccine development project with UH.

For the full story, see the JABSOM website.