HHS allocates $42.3 million reprogrammed Ebola funds to Zika fight

Health and Human Services preparedness response unit awarded $37.2 million toward work on diagnostics and vaccines, including $5.1 million to InBios for a two-year contract to develop a serological test that could reduce result time from days to hours.
By Jessica Davis
03:44 PM
HHS Ebola Zika

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services’ allocated $42.3 million in what was once funding to battle Ebola toward the pressing Zika fight.

The White House announced this spring that it would reprogram some $589 million that was previously earmarked for Ebola response. And HHS $42.3 million comes as the number of Zika-infected patients in Miami passed 10, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning to the area, and many people are blaming Congress for not acting earlier to fund Zika work.

HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) said that it is putting $37.2 million to create Zika blood screening tests, diagnostics, technologies for reducing pathogens and ultimately vaccines and working with private sector entities. 

[Also: CDC says widespread Zika infections are unlikely]

BARDA is supporting the development of tests that screen for Zika virus in the blood supply and is helping to assure the availability of blood samples developers need to test the accuracy of Zika diagnostics. The division also is working with federal partners on vaccine development to protect against Zika virus infections. With this award, ASPR/BARDA has obligated $37.2 million of HHS reprogrammed Ebola funds to develop Zika vaccines, diagnostics, blood screening tests, and pathogen reduction technologies through private sector partners.

HHS also awarded $5.1 million to Seattle-based InBios International for continued development of a blood test that will reduce the result time from days to hours.

The funding will be provided with a two-year contract with HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to support refinement of InBios’ serological test able to detect a Zika virus-specific Immunoglobin M - the antibodies produced by the immune system’s response to the virus. Antibodies can be detected about a week after infection and remain in the blood for up to three months.

The funds will also support the test’s design, manufacturing preparations and clinical studies, according to the release. HHS can extend the agreement with InBios for additional work through 2021 with up to a total of about $9.5 million.

“Most people with Zika virus infections do not have symptoms, which makes diagnostics critical in identifying cases, treating patients and protecting public health,” BARDA Acting Director Richard Hatchett said in a statement. “We’re collaborating with other federal and industry partners to identify additional promising candidates for development, so that diagnostics and other medical products needed in this public health crisis become available as quickly as possible.”

During the development, InBios can apply for emergency use authorization from the FDA, prior to full FDA authorization.

The only other serological test designed for early detection of Zika infections was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the announcement. However, it’s only issued under emergency authorization by the FDA. Further, CDC’s serological test takes two to three days for results and can only be administered in CDC-designated qualified laboratories. 

Twitter: @JessieFDavis
Email the writer: jessica.davis@himssmedia.com

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