US firm may come up with vaccine for Zika

The world leader in vaccine manufacturing, Merck, is hunting for solutions to address mosquito-borne Zika infection.

The Zika virus is spreading rapidly through Latin America. Most people who contract it have either mild or no symptoms, but it is suspected of causing a birth defect that results in babies born with abnormally small heads.

“Merck was called up to ask if we can help… We have a long-standing commitment to public health and vaccine innovation. We are assessing if Merck can contribute to reduce the disease burden caused by the spread of Zika infection,” Patrick Bergstedt, global head,vaccines at Merck &Co told HT. “There are currently many unknowns about the virus, its transmission and how best to interrupt transmission through vaccination, treatment or other measures.”

Merck has emerged as the sole company developing vaccine to protect against Ebola.

Indian biotechnology company Bharat Biotech said last week that it is working on two possible vaccines to fight the Zika virus. Biotech’s announcement came a day after France’s Sanofi said it had launched a project to develop a Zika vaccine. Japanese drugmaker Takeda Pharmaceutical also said it was investigating the possibilities of developing a vaccine for the disease.

In 2014, Merck was the vaccine industry leader with total vaccine sales revenue of $6.25 billion, followed by Sanofi Pasteur with $5.85 billion, GSK with $5.26 billion, Pfizer with $4.48 billion, and Novartis with $1.53 billion as per the industry estimates.

There are no known cases of Zika in India yet though the government has issued an advisory asking expectant mothers to avoid travelling to affected countries, most of them in Latin America.