September 24, 2017

Research Roundup: A Zika vaccine priority, partnerships for better cures, and a nationwide polio vaccine drive

Program Assistant

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Sanofi Pasteur’s announcement that it will cease work on its Zika vaccine candidate has raised concerns about the future of Zika vaccine development. While the World Health Organization has reported 40 Zika vaccine candidates in development, with six candidates in phase 1 clinical trials, Sanofi was the only major pharmaceutical company working on a vaccine against the virus. Its exit from this space raises questions about who will fund clinical development if these candidates show further promise. Additionally, many unanswered questions remain about the virus’s epidemiology and the target population for a vaccine. While the number of Zika cases is now falling, Zika epidemics will likely reoccur in the future. Because of this risk, developing an effective and low-cost Zika vaccine must remain a priority.

Johnson & Johnson and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) have formed a partnership to develop vaccines and drugs to protect against pandemic influenza. Among its projects, the partnership is seeking to develop a “universal” flu vaccine that protects against all or most influenza strains. This collaborative effort highlights a larger trend in partnerships between the private sector, the US government, and nonprofits to develop vaccines and technologies against emerging health threats for which there is currently limited commercial market.

Pakistan has launched its first nationwide vaccination drive for polio, aiming to immunize over 37 million children. Pakistan is one of just three countries where polio cases remain, so this nationwide drive is an important step toward eradication. While polio still remains endemic in Pakistan, the number of cases has reduced dramatically in recent years from 306 cases in 2014 to just 4 today. Pakistan has experienced obstacles in its attempts to eradicate the virus, which include efforts by extremists to target immunization campaigns.