By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Butantan Institute in Brazil has announced a partnership with the United States’ Health Department and the World Health Organization (WHO) to expand the research capacity of its laboratories and increase Brazil’s capacity to produce a Zika vaccine. According to the Brazilian institute it will receive US$3 million to research a Zika vaccine with inactivated virus.
“The investment recognizes the excellence of the Butantan Institute in the research and production of new biopharmaceuticals. The partnership will allow the institution to continue the production of a vaccine against the Zika virus, contributing to the advancement of scientific research in the country,” says Jorge Kalil, director of the Butantan Institute.
According to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is part of the U.S.’s Health Department the produced Zika vaccine will be able to prevent infections in Brazil and help reduce the likelihood of transmission from people traveling between Brazil and the United States or other countries.
“Responding to Zika and other emerging infectious diseases regionally is vital in today’s interconnected world,” said Dr. Richard Hatchett, BARDA’s acting director. According to Hatchett the partnership will help strengthen a successful collaboration with the WHO to improve the global outbreak response.
Officials said the money will be used to purchase laboratory equipment, vaccine reagents and other supplies that are essential in producing Zika vaccines. Currently, the research is at the stage of immunization of the inactivated virus in rodents.The Brazilian institute hopes that a vaccine will be available to be tested in humans in the first semester of 2017.
Last week Brazil’s Health Ministry released data showing that 1,616 cases of microcephaly in newborn babies were recorded from October of 2015 to June 18th, 2016, with 233 of these cases being confirmed, by lab exams, to be directly related to the infection of the Zika virus by the mother. The outbreak last year of the virus and its link to microcephaly in newborns sent a wave of fear throughout the country and the world.
Concern that the Zika Virus could disrupt the upcoming Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games were dissipated by the World Health Organization, which issued a statement in late May saying that there would be no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games.
WHO director, Margaret Chan, who visited Rio in February, stated that August and September, when the games are scheduled, is winter time in Brazil, and a much drier time of year. The drier weather hinders the proliferation of the mosquitos which carry the virus.
In early June, health officials for the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee reported that the cases of people infected by the Zika virus dropped significantly in the last few weeks and that computer models showed that incidents of Zika were expected to be close to zero during the Games. Nonetheless there have been media reports of several foreign athletes who have chosen not to attend this year’s Games due to the outbreak.