Microbix Biosystems Inc., an innovator of biological products and technologies, today announced plans to develop and introduce new products for use in diagnostic tests and vaccine research in response to the emergent Zika virus, which is spreading throughout the Americas and is being characterized as a crisis by health authorities.
The Zika virus is a member of the flavivirus family, which includes the mosquito-borne Dengue Fever virus. Microbix is the world’s leading supplier of Dengue antigen to diagnostics manufacturers and the company recently added three new strains of this virus to its product line. Currently, healthcare workers are testing for both viruses in persons suspected of being infected.
Using its established development platform and unique expertise in virology, Microbix intends to develop and launch a range of products to help combat the Zika virus, including native molecular controls, live and inactivated forms of the antigen, and related biological materials. These products will aid in the development of assays with high specificity and low cross-reactivity to related tropical diseases, including Dengue, that are spreading into formerly temperate climates as the geographic range of host mosquitos expands.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports the Zika virus is spreading rapidly in the Americas, and it is being linked to babies born with abnormally small heads and other possible birth defects. Approximately one in 200 babies born in Brazil have been affected since the onset of the crisis in late 2015. The Director General of the WHO has declared an international public health emergency as the mosquito-borne Zika virus has gone from being “a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.”
Vaughn Embro-Pantalony, Microbix’ CEO and President commented, “The close relationship between Zika and Dengue viruses places Microbix in a unique position to help meet the challenges of this emerging health threat. Our expertise in growing Dengue virus at large scale, together with our processes for delivering diagnostic products for Dengue, will allow us to efficiently produce these new Zika virus products once their development is complete. We believe our products will be pivotal for the accurate diagnosis of this infection, which will help health authorities more effectively respond to this crisis, and will benefit patients as well as those at risk.”
Dr. Mark Luscher, Microbix’ Senior Vice-President and Chief Scientific Officer explained, “Zika virus infection may progress without symptoms or it may be associated with a mild fever or rash, making it very difficult to detect the presence of the virus early in the infectious phase. Microbix’ virus products are often used to detect antibodies produced by the body during infection. Such antibodies last long after the infection is gone, and thus are a vital indicator to health care professionals that a person has been infected with the virus. In the case of Zika, this information may be critical to the health of the individual and an unborn child. The need for this type of health information has already led to Microbix’ Rubella, Toxoplasmosis and CMV products being used to test women of childbearing age throughout the world.”
“The Zika virus will be cultured and purified as a basis for immune testing for current or past infection,” continued Dr. Luscher. “Microbix is also producing a Red Controls Zika preparation to help reference laboratories in Zika-affected countries. We intend to complete development of these Zika-related products as soon as possible.”