The Zika virus outbreak in South America has created a medical emergency around the continent and beyond. Genetically modified mosquitoes designed and developed in the laboratories to fight dengue are being held responsible for this epidemic.
The pharmaceutical industry appears weapon-less to tackle this disease. Lack of vaccines and mechanisms to combat it appears to be the major concern. Drug industries are in a race to develop and market Zika virus vaccines. Last month, GeneOne Life Science Inc., a South Korean biopharmaceutical company, said it had launched a joint research program with U.S. biotech firm Inovio Pharmaceuticals to develop a DNA-based vaccine to prevent and treat Zika virus infection. UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline also said last week that it was assessing its research platform for the potential to develop a Zika vaccine. Merck has licensed a potential Zika vaccine candidate from U.S. biotech company NewLink Genetics Corp. to proceed with human testing.
But was the world really clueless? Or is it just a mass media commotion.
Facts about the Zika Virus
Zika virus (ZIKV) is a member of the virus family Flaviviridae and the genus Flavivirus, transmitted by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes, such as A. Aegypti. Its name comes from the Zika forest of Uganda, where the virus was first isolated in 1947. Rockefeller Foundation was the first institute to register this virus with ATCC in 1947.
In humans, the virus causes a mild illness known as Zika fever, Zika, or Zika disease – microcephaly in babies – which since the 1950s has been known to occur within a narrow equatorial belt from Africa to Asia. In 2014, the virus spread eastward across the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia, then to Easter Island, and in 2015 to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America, where the Zika outbreak has reached pandemic levels.
Research and development in the field of mosquito-borne diseases especially targeting the Flavivirus strain has been conducted over the years. The U.S. National Institutes of Health has long conducted research into Flaviviruses with about $97 million in funding in fiscal 2015.
Meanwhile, an Indian biotechnology company, Bharat Biotech, has claimed to have discovered two Zika virus vaccines. One of the vaccines is a recombinant Zika virus DNA, while the other vaccine is dormant Zika virus administered to trigger an immune response. Bharat Biotech claimed to have started working on a Zika vaccine in November 2014, prior to the current Zika outbreak that is thought to have started in Brazil in April 2015. Bharat Biotech claims to be the first company to file a patent for a Zika vaccine, which is now in pre-clinical testing as the firm prepares to test it on animals.
The patent landscape reveals that Zika viruses have been targeted by various pharmaceutical and biochemical drug inventions. Leading pharmaceutical companies like Novartis owns patents that claims compounds for treating Zika virus infection. Publication number US8278282 titled “Nucleoside analogs for treatment of viral infections” having priority date of Feb 9, 2007 claims compound for treating Zika virus infection.
Pharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences Inc. has also patented compounds for inhibiting Flavivirus infections including Zika virus infection. Publication number US8513298 titled “Inhibitors of flaviviridae viruses” having priority date of 15 Jan 2010 claims compound for treating Zika virus infection.
Approximately, 616 patents have been filed and granted globally for diagnosing and treating Zika virus infection. Majority of these patents target the Flavivirus strain and not specifically against the Zika virus alone, a future prospect for more targeted research is open.
Human trials of prospective vaccines and drugs will need to be accelerated to relieve affected patients quickly. Leading pharmaceutical companies like Sanofi, Takeda, Novartis, Gilead, Merck are racing towards fighting Zika virus. The leading applicants of patents in this space are Gilead Sciences Inc., Selcia Limited and Novartis.
Zika virus may be a new name for the common man, but medical research teams around the world have knowledge of its existence. However, they may not have expected this otherwise localized virus to spread across continents and outbreak in large numbers, triggering a global medical emergency.
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