Just last month, a research team led by Dr. Dan Barouch of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center reported promising results from two sorts of Zika vaccines in mice. But mice are just mice — now they're up to monkeys, and from two vaccines to three, they report in the journal Science.
"Our findings raise substantial optimism that the development of a safe and effective vaccine against Zika virus for humans might be possible," Barouch says. "Therefore, clinical trials should proceed as quickly as possible."
In fact, one of the vaccine types the team tested in monkeys is slated to begin human clinical trials this fall at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and other sites, Barouch says.
A news article in Science explains the three promising vaccines: "One is a traditional vaccine that uses a whole killed Zika virus. The second contains DNA from Zika woven into a small, harmless circle of DNA called a plasmid; once in cells, this DNA produces Zika proteins that spark an immune response against them. The third strategy stitched Zika genes into adenoviruses, which act as Trojan horses and infect cells to trigger immune responses."
A Pennsylvania company has already begun clinical trials of one vaccine, and the National Institutes of Health are launching them as well. So the eternal question: How soon might a vaccine be available for the general public?
"It’s very difficult to predict timeframe as to when a vaccine might go through the arduous process of clinical trials and regulatory reviews, so I can't give a date," Barouch says. "But I do think our current data raises substantial optimism that development of a vaccine might be possible, and therefore accelerates the process of vaccine development."
And what would his team say to the people of Miami, who've been warned by the CDC of high Zika risk in a "hot zone" there?
"I think that we would want to tell them that there is reason for optimism, and doctors and scientists are working as hard and as quickly as possible to develop a vaccine."
Listen to a Radio Boston segment on the latest Zika developments here.