Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines department of Sanofi, has announced a project to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus (ZIKV). The company will leverage their expertise in the development of vaccines against similar viruses like dengue, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis.
Sanofi’s research and development expertise and industrial infrastructure -crucial to create Dengvaxia, their licensed vaccine for dengue- can be quickly applied to the study of ZIKV and to identify a promising candidate for the clinical phase. Sanofi Pasteur is already talking to experts worldwide and in regions affected by ZIKV.
ZIKV and dengue have many similarities: they belong to the Flavivirus genus, spread through the same mosquito (daytime- active Aedes species) and cause the same symptoms -fever, rash, joint swelling, conjunctivitis and headaches. But experts suspect that ZIKV causes microcephaly in babies from mothers infected during pregnancy. This unusual condition impairs proper brain development due to an aberrantly small head.
This announcement is Sanofi’s answer to the global call against the quick and unexpected spread of the virus. ZIKV has been known since the 1950s and considered inoffensive, and was geographically contained in a narrow equatorial zone. But in 2014 the virus spread to other regions, and in 2015 it reached pandemic levels in Latin America.
World Health Organization Concerns
The World Health Organization is concerned about the ZIKV for several reasons. First, it is probably linked to neurological syndromes and birth malformations. Second, its potential further spread due to the wide distribution of the mosquito vector. Third, the lack of immunity in the population. And fourth, the absence of vaccines, treatments and quick diagnostic tests.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend pregnant women not to travel to ZIKV-affected areas.