Photo of Neil Van Hoeven, Ph.D.Blue-wedge1

As Zika cases continue to rise around the world – and in the United States – with associated increases in Guillain-Barre syndrome and congenital birth defects, the need for a safe and effective vaccine to protect against the virus is greater than ever. IDRI has taken on the quest to develop a Zika vaccine with a $491,000, two-year grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The goal is to rapidly develop a novel, safe and effective Zika vaccine by designing and formulating new RNA-based vaccine candidates.

As part of the grant, IDRI scientists, led by Dan Stinchcomb, Ph.D., Sr. Vice President for Vaccine Development Viral Disease Programs, and Neal van Hoeven, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, will leverage the Zika virus’ own machinery for expression of immunogenic proteins. “This is a method of hijacking the virus’s own machinery to express proteins in order to rapidly make a safe and effective vaccine,” Stinchcomb explained.

According to Stinchcomb, the advantage of RNA vaccines is that they are based on the genetic sequence of the virus. “RNA encoding protein antigens can be rapidly synthesized and manufactured,” he said. “And we can manufacture these vaccines more rapidly because RNA vaccines are fully synthetic and don’t require growth in eggs, cells or bacteria. When delivered, the RNA vaccine can effectively induce protective immune responses quickly.”

One of IDRI’s goals is to develop platforms that can be used for rapid response to infectious disease outbreaks. “The recent development of vector independent RNA based delivery systems represents a practical platform for rapid and inexpensive development of new vaccine candidates,” said Steve Reed, Ph.D., IDRI’s Founder, President & Chief Scientific Officer. “This grant allows us to perform proof-of-concept studies for an RNA vaccine platform that could be applicable to other emerging infectious diseases.”

— Photo at top:  Neal van Hoeven, Ph.D., is working to develop a Zika vaccine by designing and formulating new RNA-based vaccine candidates.