Local firm gets green light to test Zika virus vaccine

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Inovio Pharmaceuticals in Plymouth Meeting will be enrolling 40 healthy adults to test a Zika vaccine. (WPVI)

A local pharmaceutical company is set to start human tests of a potential vaccine against the Zika virus.

Inovio Pharmaceuticals, of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, said it received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to begin early-stage safety tests of its DNA-based vaccine against the mosquito-borne virus.

Inovio will enroll 40 healthy adults in coming weeks to test a Zika vaccine to make sure it's safe and that it has the potential to work.

Action News visited the company when they were working on an Ebola vaccine.

The company's vaccine is intended to prime the immune system to fight Zika by introducing genetically-engineered material that mimics the virus.

It says animals tested with the vaccine developed antibodies and immune-system cells that attack Zika.

Today's word puts the company ahead of researchers at the National Institutes of Health, who have said they expect to begin testing their own DNA-based Zika vaccine by early fall.

The NIH is working to develop a Zika vaccine by swapping out the genetic material from its experimental West Nile virus vaccine.

Several other companies are also racing to develop a Zika vaccine.

Zika has been linked to severe birth defects and a rare virus that can cause paralysis.

Inovio and its partner, GeneOne Life Science said they expect results from the vaccine study by the end of 2016.

There are currently no licensed drugs or vaccines for Zika.

Ultimately, confirming the safety and effectiveness of any Zika virus will require large studies, and how fast those could be done depends in part on whether Zika still is spreading widely in 2017.

Zika is spread mainly through the bite of a tropical mosquito, Aedes aegypti. It causes only a mild and brief illness, at worst, in most people. But it can cause fetal deaths and severe birth defects in the children of women infected during pregnancy.

Zika has become epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean since last fall. Officials aren't expecting big outbreaks in the continental U.S., but some cases are likely as temperatures rise and mosquitoes spread.

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