Prokarium to develop first vaccine to protect against both modes of Zika transmission


The new vaccine will be the first to be active against insect-borne (antibody-mediated) and sexually transmitted (mucosal and cell-mediated) Zika infection, while causing few or zero side-effects

UK-based biotechnology company Prokarium has launched its programme to develop an oral vaccine against Zika virus infection. Using the company’s know-how in synthetic biology, the new vaccine will be the first to be active against both modes of Zika transmission - insect-borne (antibody-mediated) and sexually transmitted (mucosal and cell-mediated) infections.

Prokarium’s Zika project is a one-year programme starting on 1 October 2016 and aims to show pre-clinically that the vaccine can protect against vaginal Zika challenge. If successful, it is anticipated that a phase 1 clinical trial could be started in 2018. The project is a part of a £2m funding received for developing three vaccines against plague (anti-bioterror), bacterial diarrhoea and Zika.

According to the World Health Organisation, 67 countries and territories have reported evidence of mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission since 2015. Sexual transmission also complicates the spread of the disease in areas where people are being bitten by mosquitoes such as Brazil and Colombia. A vaccine that protects against both transmission routes is the only way to offer the maximum safeguard and stop the spread of the disease.

'We use a safe bacterium, which is swallowed and then enters into the immune cells of the gut lining to produce vaccine there,' explains Prokarium’s CEO Ted Fjällman. 'The oral delivery means that we kick-start mucosal immunity, the body’s first defence against infection in, for example, the gut, nose or the vaginal tract.

'The production of vaccine from within immune cells means that our approach causes few or zero side-effects, while crucially initiating cellular immunity, which is very important for combatting viruses like Zika.' Steve Chatfield, Chairman of Prokarium, added, 'The Small Business Research Initiative innovation procurement contract is from the UK Department of Health and the UK Vaccine Network, administered by Innovate UK. It will help Prokarium and our partner, Public Health England, to develop an orally delivered Zika vaccine.

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'This places Prokarium at centre-stage of a few selected organisations that will help the UK to build an independent rapid response capability against emerging epidemics.'