Takeda joins several companies and government agencies in efforts to develop a vaccine against the virus that has spread across the Americas since the current outbreak was first detected previous year in Brazil.
A US subsidiary of Takeda Group has received an initial $19.8 million contract from the Department of Health and Human Services to develop and test a Zika virus vaccine over the next 18 months.
If Takeda’s Zika vaccine proves to be successful during initial tests, the company could receive up to $312 million of funding so that it could push through with late-stage trials and filing for government approval.
However, the vaccine candidate that they are now testing in early human trials is based on DNA and does not contain any actual samples of the virus.
Takeda Pharmaceuticals announced Thursday it will seek to develop a vaccine for the Zika virus with funding from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Takeda said the Japanese government, with which it is working on fighting pandemic influenza, could join the Zika virus project.
Takeda said it also in talks with BARDA and the Cabinet Secretariat of the Prime Minister Office regarding potential participation of Japanese health agencies in the collaboration, citing commitments by the Japanese government to infectious disease preparedness. More recently, Singapore identified a local outbreak.
There are no drugs or vaccines available yet to fight the virus, which is unsafe to women because it can cause brain damage in babies and was linked to some cases of neurological disorders in adults.
The Zika virus is spread by mosquito bites has been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains, a condition known as microcephaly. There are currently no treatments or vaccines marketed for the virus and much of the public health effort is now aimed at preaching safe sex practices to those in affected areas to reduce the risk of sexual transmission of the disease, as it can remain in the blood for around a week after infection.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals and the U.S. National Institutes of Health have already begun human trials of vaccine candidates.