Alabama’s Southern Research is Central to Zika Virus Vaccine Research


Business Council of Alabama member Southern Research of Birmingham has been awarded a contract of more than $900,000 with a chance at a larger contract over two years in the race to combat the Zika virus.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded Southern Research’s life sciences team a contract of $901,048 to expand research on the Zika virus (ZIKV) that has spread to the north and south American continents.

“Southern Research has a long history of pivotal work on infectious diseases, including mosquito-borne illnesses including dengue, chikungunya, and West Nile Virus,” said Art Tipton, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research. “Our team is uniquely positioned to support the growing body of global research on the Zika virus through translational science, and we’re grateful for the solid partnerships we’ve developed over the years with the NIH and NIAID.”

A Zika virus case in Alabama was confirmed in February.

The $901,048 contract was awarded for the development of a non-human primate model of ZIKV infection for product evaluation. Southern Research is working to secure NIAID contracts of up to $3.9M to help fight the Zika virus.

The research will be led by principal investigator Jonathan Rayner, Ph.D., head of Southern Research’s infectious disease research, Drug Development. Collaborating will be Senior Project Leader Fusataka Koide, Ph.D., Southern Research said.

“Our ultimate goal with this project is to establish a model of Zika virus infection that can be used for the evaluation of new vaccines and therapeutics in optional efficacy studies sponsored by NIAID,” said Dr. Rayner. “There is an understanding that the virus may continue to spread into new regions over the summer. Therefore, this contract from NIAID is timely and will help us to expedite efforts to understand the pathogenesis of this virus, and support the search for new vaccines and therapeutics.”

Research will involve evaluating the pathogenicity of three different geographic isolates of ZIKV at increasing concentrations, and assessing the impact of prior exposure on immunity to subsequent infection with the same isolate, or a different isolate of the virus, Southern Research said. The resulting model will serve as a resource to inform research around possible vaccines or therapeutics for ZIKV disease.

In addition to the non-human primate model that is the subject of the NIAID-NIH contract, Southern Research said it is working on other in vitro and in vivo models for ZIKV, and has previously developed a unique antiviral assay used by researchers to screen candidate therapeutics and a mouse model to evaluate the efficacy of those therapeutics.

This research will also provide the foundation for Southern Research to utilize its expertise in Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology to better understand the impact of ZIKV infection on the fetus during pregnancy, Southern Research said.

ZIKV is spread primarily through the bite of two species of mosquitoes, but can also be transmitted sexually. An outbreak of the virus in Brazil and South and Central America has led to a significant increase in the number of children born with microcephaly, and has caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue travel warnings to pregnant women and others considering travel to regions where the virus has spread.

Southern Research employs nearly 500 scientists and engineers to work to solve some of the world’s hardest problems in Drug Discovery, Drug Development, Engineering, and Energy & Environment. Founded in 1941, Southern Research works with some of the world’s leading organizations including the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, several major aerospace firms, the nation’s largest utility companies, and other private and government organizations.