Sanofi has launched a project to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus in the most decisive commitment yet by a major vaccine producer to fight the disease linked to multiple birth defects in Brazil. Grace Pascoe reports.
Sanofi has started the search for a Zika vaccine. The French drugmaker is the first major producer to commit to finding a solution to a disease linked to multiple birth defects in Brazil. And it can't come soon enough. The World Health Organisation has officially declared the Zika virus an international public health emergency. Simon Smith is from FXPro. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FXPRO, HEAD OF RESEARCH, SIMON SMITH, SAYING: "The World Health Organization have come out quicker than perhaps was the case with Ebola in terms of recognizing the seriousness of it. Sanofi are well placed to sort of move in, in terms of looking for a something that can get over this virus in terms of an antidote etc. I think on that point it is naturally an opportunity to them because I think at the moment there is nothing that can counteract it." Sanofi's Pasteur division has already developed vaccines for similar diseases, including yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis and, most recently, dengue. And its established infrastructure should speed up the process. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FXPRO, HEAD OF RESEARCH, SIMON SMITH, SAYING: "It is geographically more contained literally by the nature of the transmission through the specific mosquito. Naturally with the Olympics in Brazil coming up then that is going to focus I think much more strongly the global focus on the impact." Some academic institutions and small biotech companies are also working on Zika vaccines. And the WHO is recommending "mass community engagement" in areas with infected mosquitos. But for some the damage is already done and, even if the development process can be accelerated, a vaccine may still be years away.