GSK, NIH prepare mRNA-based lab work for Zika vaccine

Dive Brief:

  • GlaxoSmithKline is preparing research studies alongside the National Institute of Health's Vaccine Research Center to test a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine technology for Zika, the company announced Thursday.
  • The technology deviates from the norm since it does not rely on strands of the virus, active or inactive, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The self-amplifying method could also allow for smaller doses and greater production potential at the manufacturing stage. 
  • GSK joins a growing race to develop a Zika vaccine. In separate statements this week, French companies Sanofi and Valneva announced they were developing a Zika vaccine candidate based on the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research's purified inactive vaccine technology. 

Dive Insight:

Sanofi appears to be farthest along in developing a Zika vaccine, so GSK's announcement of early-stage laboratory research to develop a candidate is far from ground-breaking. The company itself said the vaccine R&D process "is a lengthy process, typically taking 10-15 years." 

The technology, however, could be promising: although the concept has been around since the 90's, there are currently no licensed RNA vaccines on the market, the Inquirer reported citing GSK's head of U.S. vaccine research. 

Nonetheless, research on RNA-based vaccines remains popular since the technologies self-amplifying abilities mean could potentially be manufactured faster and cheaper than an epidemic can spread. It was for that reason that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sanofi, and Boehringer bet millions on the German CureVac's mRNA research facility last year. 

And GSK is entering the mRNA R&D field at a perfect time, too, since governments around the world are partnering with companies to provide ample resources and hasten any Zika-vaccine research. 

"We will partner with research groups at the NIH to explore this concept in laboratory-based studies and, if this goes well, to accelerate our ability to transition this technology to a stage where a clinical proof of concept can be achieved," the company said in its statement. 

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Filed Under: Drug Discovery