It was announced this week that teams are getting closer to fighting the virus – one method protecting fetuses, the other a human trial for a new vaccine

By Rose Minutaglio
Updated November 29, 2016 05:18 PM

Researchers are speeding up studies to find vaccines and drugs to treat Zika, which has spread worldwide at an alarming rate. On Monday, it was announced that two separate teams are reportedly getting closer to fighting the virus — one method protecting fetuses, the other a human trial for a new vaccine.

In a study published in the journal Nature, a group of scientists revealed that they have identified a human antibody that protects an unborn baby from becoming infected with the Zika virus. The research was conducted on mice, so it doesn’t directly translate to humans, but leading researchers are optimistic.

“This is the first antiviral that has been shown to work in pregnancy to protect developing fetuses from Zika virus,” research leader Dr. Michael Diamond of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis told NBC News.

“This is proof of principle that Zika virus during pregnancy is treatable, and we already have a human antibody that treats it, at least in mice.”

With more Zika cases reported in the U.S. every day, Maryland’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research launched the first of five early stage clinical trials. Researchers believe it could lead to the creation of a Zika vaccine – although it will not become available to the public for another two to three years, reports the Miami Herald.

The trial vaccine, called Zika purified inactivated virus (ZPIV) uses a weakened or dead virus to “provoke an immune system defense,” according to the publication. Pre-trial studies from July showed that two doses of ZPIV resulted in a protective immune response to Zika in monkeys, and so the trial will open to human candidates.

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research scientists are recruiting 75 healthy adult volunteers who have never been infected with a related virus, including yellow fever, dengue, West Nile and Japanese encephalitis, to participate in the trial.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

“The Army has moved efficiently from recognizing Zika virus as a threat, producing ZPIV for use in animals and demonstrating its effectiveness in mice and monkeys, producing ZPIV for human testing, and now initiating clinical trials to establish its safety and build the case for subsequent efficacy trials,” Army Col. (Dr.) Nelson Michael, director of WRAIR’s Military HIV Research Program, or MHRP, and Zika program co-lead, said in a statement.

Researchers will then test volunteers to see whether their bodies can respond healthily to protect them against a Zika infection.

“We urgently need a safe and effective vaccine to protect people from Zika virus infection as the virus continues to spread,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in a statement announcing the study.

If the clinical trial for ZPIV proves to be safe and effective in the dozens of human volunteers, the vaccine candidates will advance to a series of clinical trials to be run by Sanofi Pasteur, a vaccines division of pharmaceutical company Sanofi, according to the Herald.