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Cambridge company at forefront of Zika virus vaccine

Two mosquitos in close-up
Two mosquitos in close-up

New hope in fight to beat Zika virus

A Cambridge company is set to play a major part in helping to produce the world’s first vaccine aimed at stopping the rise of the Zika virus.

Excivion, a company with just two staff, is teaming-up with an American company after receiving a £500,000 grant from the government to help with its work on the vaccine.

Excivion contracts around 30 scientists across the globe and will work with US pharma firm Xenetic Biosciences to deliver the vaccine.

They are working on technology that will increase the strength of the vaccine and put an end to refrigeration storage.

That would allow the drug to be stockpiled in case of a severe outbreak. The race to find a vaccine for the disease has been sparked by the first reported cases of the virus in America.

Peter Laing, CEO of Excivion, said: “Xenetic’s delivery platform provides simultaneously a prime and boost effect with a single shot of vaccine. This remarkable feature is ideal for our purpose, because the Zika vaccine is required to stimulate strong and long-lasting immune responses.

“We are grateful for the generous support and validation of the UK Government who are funding this work via a contract under the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) from the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.”

The funding is part of £10m Department of Health investment with the aim of developing vaccines for infectious diseases and technology.

Excivion’s Chief Executive Peter Laing, who has worked in the sector fo more than two decades, admitted that interest in the jab had sparked research offers from private funding as well.

Scott Maguire, CEO of Xenetic, added: “We are very pleased to be working with Excivion to develop this important vaccine that will be designed to address these serious pandemic diseases that have spread worldwide.

“There is a growing sense of urgency for a solution since the unexpected emergence of Zika in Florida, which now represents a real and immediate threat in the United States.”

The ultimate plan for Excivion is to license the Zika vaccine as early as possible to a mainstream company that could commit to getting it delivered.

Currently, there is no approved drugs or vaccines for Zika, because it has not been widely examined, and while some early research noted that the virus could infect brain cells, the connection between Zika and microcephaly—a severe neurological birth defect, is relatively new.

Even now, many people who get infected will never know it, and if they start showing signs of infection, such as a rash, red eyes, fever or joint pain, doctors have little to offer other than advice to stay hydrated or take Tylenol as needed.

The emergence of Zika in Florida followed on from outbreaks across Brazil.

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