Microbix developing program to combat Zika virus

Microbix Biosystems (TSX:MBX) has made 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.

Using its established development platform and 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 close relationship between Zika and Dengue viruses places Microbix in a unique position to help meet the challenges of this emerging health threat,” Vaughn Embro-Pantalony, CEO and president, said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

Microbix’ virus products are often used to detect antibodies produced by the body during infection. These 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.

Dr. Mark Luscher, SVP and CSO, said the Zika virus would be cultured and purified as a basis for immune testing for current or past infection. 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,” he added.