A vaccine against the Zika virus will be developed by a University of Manchester team using emergency ‘Rapid Response’ funding from the Medical Research Council, The Wellcome Trust and the Newton Fund.
The rapid response funding initiative supporting the project was announced at the beginning of February, and aims to fast-track research tackling the risk posed by the Zika virus. Funding has been made available to researchers to investigate the nature and transmission of the virus, create preventative strategies, or explore links to neurological conditions including microcephaly.
Using £177,713 of funding, the Manchester team will create and test a vaccine that primarily targets the Zika virus, but also has the potential to combat many other infectious diseases simultaneously. At present, there is no specific treatment or vaccine available.
The project will be led by Honorary Senior Lecturer from the University of Manchester, Dr Tom Blanchard, who is also Fellow of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Consultant in Infectious Diseases at North Manchester General Hospital and the Royal Liverpool Hospital. Other University of Manchester experts involved in the project include Professor Pam Vallely and Dr Eddie McKenzie. The work will be carried out in collaboration with Professors Miles Carrol and Roger Hewson of Public Health England.
With the Zika virus now reportedly circulating in 44 countries and territories, research into treating the disease is needed as quickly as possible. The results of the Manchester vaccine project are expected to be delivered within 18 months.
Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitos, and usually presents as a mild fever persisting for 2 – 7 days. However the worry with Zika virus comes with its association with neurological conditions in newborns, including microcephaly, where the brain doesn’t develop properly, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, which involves a deficit in nerve development.
Lead researcher Dr Blanchard said: “As we have seen in the case of Ebola there is now a real need to react quickly to fast spreading tropical diseases. Zika can cause serious illness, but it often has no visible symptoms, so a vaccine for those at risk is one of the most effective ways we have of combatting it.”
He added: “We know that there’s an urgent need for this vaccine but we’ll be working carefully to deliver a product which is safe and effective and which can be quickly deployed to those who need it.
“If we can also use this vaccine on multiple targets then this will represent an exciting step forward in dealing with these kinds of outbreaks.”