The race to find a protection against Zika virus is nearing its finish line as a vaccine is likely to emerge within two years, Reuters reports.
Three pharmaceutical giants: Sanofi SA (SASY.PA), GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L) and Takeda Pharmaceuticals (4502.T) are toping the race in search of a vaccine.
However, the major reason for which a vaccine is sought is completely left out of the debates.
Many of the companies look at the potential big profit: The prospect of a blockbuster vaccine against a mosquito-borne virus has accelerated the pace of development.
However, the race for a vaccine for malaria is seen as largely philanthropic with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sponsoring research into a vaccine development.
Development is ongoing, and GSK expects no profit.
For Zika, a vaccine could come to market in as little as two years. Even if the current outbreaks in Latin America and the Caribbean burn out by that time, people living in those regions are expected to want protection against a return of Zika.
Although Zika infections are mild or asymptomatic in most people, demand for a vaccine is expected to be strong because it can cause devastating birth defects, pharmaceutical executives and disease experts said.
The vaccine when launched would benefit travellers seeking inoculation against the mosquito-borne disease which is also spread through sex.
“It scares people,” said Scott Weaver, a virologist with the University of Texas and chairman of the Zika task force for the Global Virus Network.
“Europeans and Americans can pay a pretty high price for these kinds of vaccines.”
Tens of millions of travellers from United States and other wealthy nations, including people on business trips with corporate-sponsored health coverage, are expected to get vaccines before visiting areas where Zika is circulating.
“If you consider just a portion of the U.S. traveler population, we can conservatively envision a Zika market opportunity exceeding $1 billion” a year, said Joseph Kim, chief executive of Inovio Pharmaceuticals (INO.O).
Inovio is a Pennsylvania company that is farthest along in the development path with human testing of a vaccine candidate underway in hard hit Puerto Rico.
Drugmakers and disease experts also envision the vaccine becoming standard care for girls before puberty to guard against birth defects in future pregnancies.
Boys also could be candidates to protect eventual sexual partners.
“Hopefully a vaccine can be developed that’s sold for a low cost in endemic areas,” Weaver said.