The first volunteer has received a dose of Inovio Pharmaceuticals' experimental vaccine to combat the Zika virus, the Plymouth meeting biotech company said Tuesday.
Inovio is developing its Zika vaccine with partner GeneOne Life Science in South Korea.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada's Health Products and Food Branch have approved early-stage tests in 40 healthy adults, the company said.
The tests will be done in Philadelphia, Miami, and Quebec City, and will evaluate safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of the vaccine against the mosquito-borne virus. Study results are expected this year.
"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are 30 million to 40 million U.S. travelers to Zika-affected areas annually," said J. Joseph Kim, Inovio president and CEO. "The resident population in the Americas at higher risk of Zika exposure has been estimated at nearly 300 million."
Inovio is developing a DNA-based vaccine -- using DNA sequences of the Zika virus -- in collaboration with the Wistar Institute in University City.
The vaccine does not use traditional live or killed viruses, and is quicker to develop because it creates a synthetic DNA sequence in a lab that triggers the body to create the same antigens as from a killed or weakened virus.
Inovio has been working on the Zika vaccine since late last year, and has tested it in mice and monkeys with positive results, Kim said.
GeneOne Life Science operates a manufacturing plant in Texas where the vaccine is made, and has collaborated with Inovio on DNA-based vaccines for Ebola and MERS.
The Zika virus causes mild flulike symptoms in most infected people, but has been linked to an increase in babies born with microcephaly, which results in abnormally small heads and impaired brain development. Health authorities have also seen an increase in Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder, in areas affected by Zika.