WRAIR Profiled for Development of Zika Vaccine

Three Walter Reed Army Institute of Research scientists who participated in the development of a Zika vaccine candidate have been profiled for a story on the Army’s recruiting website.  The story follows Sgt. Bedh Yadav, Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad and Lt. Col. Melinda Hamer through their roles in developing, refining and testing the Zika vaccine.  

WRAIR’s overseas activity in Southeast Asia, the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences, identified multiple cases of Zika infection in Thailand and the Philippines in 2013.  This surveillance, along with WRAIR’s history of basic research and vaccine development into flaviviruses, the group of virus to which Zika belongs, gave the Institute a head start in vaccine development.  

A team led by Maj. Walter Reed, WRAIR’s namesake, confirmed over 100 years ago that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes.  More recently, WRAIR scientists contributed to the development and licensure of a vaccine against Japanese encephalitis.  Countermeasures against other flaviviruses, like dengue, remain active areas of research at WRAIR.  

As the first Zika cases were identified in the United States in late 2015, WRAIR scientists and their partners developed a new vaccine by February of the next year, allowing WRAIR’s Pilot Bioproduction Facility to begin production.  By August, these small-scale batches were used to conduct preclinical trials in mice and rhesus macaque monkeys, demonstrating 100% protection against the Zika virus. 

The first human clinical trials began in November, 2016, at WRAIR’s Clinical Trial Center and partner institutions across the United States.  Led by Dr. Modjarrad, working with Lt. Col. Hamer, director of the CTC, preliminary data from the phase 1 was published in February, 2018, suggesting that 92% of vaccine recipients were protected from the Zika virus.  

The story, with detailed graphics about the transmission of the virus from mosquito to humans and maps of Zika incidence around the world, takes the viewer inside the WRAIR’s effort from laboratories to the Insectary, where the mosquitoes that spread Zika are bred for research.  

“I feel really proud that I’m part of the development of the Zika vaccine.  This is, I think, one of the biggest achievements in my life so far,” said Sgt. Yadav, who works at the Pilot Bioproduction Facility.

The research infrastructure that came together to develop the Zika vaccine was formalized into the Emerging Infectious Diseases branch in 2018, led by Dr. Modjarrad.  This mission of this new group is to survey, anticipate and counter emerging infectious diseases of key importance to U.S. forces wherever they are.