Ready, steady, go! The race towards Zika vaccine development has begun…


67 countries, thousands of infections – Zika’s reign of terror continues across the globe. A sustainable strategy to combat the virus is a top priority. The race to find a vaccine against Zika virus is accelerating. But are we close to the finish line?

In a bid to develop a safe and effective vaccine, multiple vaccine platforms are concurrently being investigated. These include purified inactivated vaccines, live attenuated vaccines, DNA vaccines and viral vectored vaccines (WHO). Strain selection for inclusion in vaccine candidates and methods to evaluate vaccine immunogenicity can be potentially streamlined owing to the fact that Zika virus exists as a single serotype (1).

What are the prerequisites for Zika virus vaccine development? A recent article by Durbin et al. (2) identified the following key considerations with regards to developing an effective vaccine against Zika:

(1) Target population for immunization, with the view of eventually vaccinating children residing in endemic areas as a part of their routine immunization

(2) Safe usage of the vaccine during pregnancy and the best timing for vaccination as congenital anomalies due to Zika virus infection occur very early in pregnancy

(3) The number of doses required to elicit an immune response

(4) The safety and immunogenicity of the vaccine in individuals with prior flavivirus exposure

(5) Sustainability of the protective effect of the vaccine


Getting a shot in the arm in the battle against Zika

With such prerequisites in mind, is it possible to fast-track vaccine development against Zika virus? One avenue currently being explored is a gene-based vaccine approach, involving DNA or mRNA, or other viral vector expression platforms to introduce viral antigen sequences into the candidate vaccine. A recent animal study reported promising results. Larocca et al. demonstrated that an intramuscular injection of a DNA vaccine encoding Zika structural proteins M-E and prM-E elicited a strong humoral immune response in mice (4). There has also been significant progress with the vaccine developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals. In preclinical testing, their synthetic DNA vaccine induced robust antibody and T cell responses in small and large animal models (3) and human trials are currently underway.

Uncovering the intricate molecular details underpinning complex human-virus interactions is critical in the fight against Zika. How can you study the pathways triggered in the immune response to viruses like Zika? QIAGEN provides a broad range of Sample to Insight solutions for viral research, starting from sample isolation, viral nucleic acid amplification and gene expression analysis. What is your research interest? Are you interested in host response profiling? To accelerate your research, we offer optimized solutions, including arrays to study the human antiviral response. Find out how REPLI-g technology can help you amplify the virus you’re studying from very low viral load samples.

Visit our eBiology stores to find the solutions tailored to your immunological research!


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  1. 1. Dowd, K. A. et al. (2016) Broadly neutralizing activity of zika virus-immune sera identifies a single viral serotype. Cell Rep. 216, 1485–1491. (Link)

2. Durbin, A. P. (2016) Vaccine development for Zika virus — timelines and strategies. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine. Thieme Medical Publishers (Link)

3. Dyer, O. (2016) Trials of Zika vaccine are set to begin in North America. BMJ. 353, 3588 (Link)

4. Larocca, R.A. et al. (2016) Vaccine protection against Zika virus from Brazil. Nature. 536, 474–478 (Link)

Devika Mathur

Devika Mathur is a Senior Technical & Marketing Writer at QIAGEN. Devika joined QIAGEN in 2008 and has been responsible for creating literature for numerous QIAGEN products, including the REPLI-g and QIAseq product lines, and has written extensively on various scientific topics ranging from next-generation sequencing and single cell analysis to PCR and sample preparation. Devika is a graduate from University College Cork, Ireland, and has a microbiology research background, focusing primarily on the molecular characterization of the replication module of the lactococcal bacteriophage Tuc2009.

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