US Government Makes 2nd Zika Investment

Ontera platform enables Zika virus molecular confirmatory diagnostics testing in the field
silhoutte of a prgnant mom
(Zika News)

The accurate and rapid diagnosis of infectious disease can lead to greater control of communicable diseases, such as the Zika virus. 

While there have not been any locally-acquired Zika cases in the continental USA reported in 2019, the US Territory of Puerto Rico has reported 18 Zika cases acquired through presumed local mosquito-borne transmission, as of June 6, 2019. 

Since the Zika virus has been linked to serious birth defects, there is a critical need for Zika diagnostics to empower front-line clinicians with point-of-care data to make more informed decisions. 

Receiving test results in minutes will enable better deployment of localized resources during outbreaks. 

Recently, the US government has made 2 strategic investments to accelerate Zika diagnostic and preventive solutions. 

On June 18, 2019, Ontera Inc. received a $982,593 contract from Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that invests in research and innovative technologies to strengthen national security.   

This funding will support Ontera’s development of a genotyping test to enable fast and accurate diagnosis of individuals infected with Zika virus.

Ontera’s platform enables field-deployable molecular confirmatory diagnostics testing as detecting the viral nucleic acid and specific viral variants are recognized as the most sensitive and specific method for establishing Zika infection and for identifying a particular strain.   

Ontera’s platform is based on silicon-nanopore, chip-based sensors and, unlike other molecular diagnostics platforms, it does not require a laboratory.

The technology is portable and durable enough to work in the field, including extreme environments, with minimal hands-on time or training required. 

Ontera’s first Zika test will include genotyping information to identify people infected with a Zika gene variant associated with microcephaly, something that is not possible with protein-based tests.   

In a recent publication of PLOS One, Ontera’s platform referred to by the company’s previous name, Two Pore Guys, had superior sensitivity and turnaround time, two critical metrics for success of infectious disease tests. 

On June 3rd, 2019, the US Department of Defense (DOD) Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, awarded Texas Biomedical Research Institute $2 million over the next 3 years to study a promising experimental Zika vaccine. 

Human safety testing has been underway on a formalin-inactivated Zika Virus Vaccine (ZPIV) candidate developed at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. 

Three phase 1 clinical trials of the ZPIV vaccine candidate with aluminum hydroxide adjuvant reported positive results. 

This is important news since a recent study reported women infected with the Zika virus early in pregnancy are almost 17 times more likely to have a child with microcephaly.   

The DOD supports research on many different tropical diseases and is particularly interested in Zika, as pregnant service members may get sent to areas of the world where the Zika virus is endemic, such as Central America. 

Here are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s top 5 things to know about the Zika virus:

  1. Zika primarily spreads through infected mosquito bites. You can also get Zika through sex.
  2. Pregnant women should not travel to areas with Zika outbreaks.
  3. If you are pregnant and must travel to an area with risk of Zika, take steps to protect yourself and your pregnancy.
  4. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly. 
  5. Returning travelers infected with Zika can spread the virus through mosquito bites and sex.

In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations.   

Before 2007, at least 14 cases of Zika had been documented, although other cases were likely to have occurred and were not reported. Because the symptoms of Zika are similar to those of many other diseases, many cases may not have been recognized, says the CDC.