HHS puts Zika vaccine on fast track
The Department of Health and Human Services has signed an $8.2 million contract with Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna Therapeutics to speed what it calls a “novel vaccine” to stop the Zika virus.
The funding of Moderna’s work comes just days after HHS announced that it would give the Takeda Group in Japan $20 million to accelerate its work developing a Zika vaccine.
Takeda’s funding goes toward enabling it to prepare for a new drug application and, if all goes well, begin clinical trials as early as next year, while Moderna’s focus is on using messenger RNA technology.
Messenger RNA, or mRNA, is a molecule that carries specific genetic codes to parts of the cell. This type of vaccine uses messenger RNA containing the genetic sequence of the Zika virus to generate an immune response in people.
Producing vaccines from this type of technology is rapid compared to other vaccine technologies that require the growth and purification of a weakened or inactive virus, HHS officials noted. Moderna is designing its mRNA vaccine to be easy to administer without any specialized delivery devices.
ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority will provide technical assistance, oversight, and funding.
“BARDA is taking a three-pronged approach to combat Zika, developing vaccines, diagnostics, and technologies that will protect the blood supply,” Richard Hatchett, MD, acting director of BARDA, said in a statement. “The agreement with Moderna expands and diversifies our portfolio of candidate vaccines and improves our chances of having a vaccine to provide protection to people and halt the spread of the Zika virus.”
Under the four-year agreement, BARDA will support a Phase 1 clinical trial, toxicology studies, vaccine formulation, and manufacturing.
If additional funding is identified the agreement could be extended to five years and a total of $125.5 million to support Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials, as well as large-scale manufacturing.
Including today’s award, BARDA has obligated all of the $85 million in funds reprogrammed for Zika work that it received in April.