NIH-funded study will track Zika in US Olympic participants

Female sprinter
Female sprinter

Jacob Ammentorp Lund / iStock

To better understand Zika infection dynamics, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said yesterday that it is supporting a study to monitor potential infections in a group of US athletes, coaches, and members of the US Olympic Committee (USOC) staff attending the Summer Olympics in Brazil.

In other Zika news, Sanofi Pasteur today announced an agreement with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) to codevelop a Zika vaccine candidate that is about to enter phase 1 human trials.

Study to explore infection spectrum

The NIH study was proposed by Carrie Byington, MD, who chairs the USOC's infectious diseases advisory group (IDAG) and is professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah, the NIH said in a press release.

Investigators hope to enroll about 1,000 men and women in the year-long study. About 3,000 USOC staffers are expected to travel to the games in Brazil, and their spouses or sexual partners who are also making the trip may be able to participate in the study as well.

Catherine Spong, MD, acting director of the NIH's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in the release that there are many unknowns about Zika risks, especially in reproductive-age people. "Monitoring the health and reproductive outcomes of members of the U.S. Olympic team offers a unique opportunity to answer important questions and help address an ongoing public health emergency," she added.

Study participants will complete health surveys and provide body fluid samples to detect Zika virus and other flaviviruses, such as dengue. The NIH said Zika virus doesn't typically cause symptoms in adults, so routine sampling is a key to learning more about asymptomatic infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing the Zika test kits and training.

Ahead of the games, the USOC's IDAG will brief athletes and coaches on Zika and a number of other health issues. In March and April, the USOC and the University of Utah conducted a pilot study involving 150 participants, which revealed that one-third said they or their partners planned on becoming pregnant within 12 months of the Olympics.

The 2016 Summer Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro on Aug 5, with the Paralympic Games slated to start on Sep 7. Brazil will be in its winter season during the events, a time when activity is low for Aedes mosquitoes that carry Zika and other viruses.

In another Zika-related Olympic development, SC Johnson said yesterday that its OFF! brand has been named the official insect repellent supplier to the Olympic Games, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The company said the repellent will be provided to athletes, volunteers, staff, and media at the games.

Vaccine development agreement

In its announcement today, Sanofi said WRAIR will transfer its Zika purified inactivated virus (ZPIV) technology to the company, paving the way for broader collaboration with the US government. According to the agreement, Sanofi will produce clinical materials to support phase 2 trials, use its processes to boost production yields, characterize the product, and create a clinical development and regulatory strategy.

Last week in announcing promising findings from preclinical studies in rhesus monkeys, WRAIR researchers said they expected that human trials of ZPIV will launch by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, WRAIR will share data for developing assays to measure neutralizing antibody response after natural infection and immunization with ZPIV, along with biological samples from trials in monkeys and humans.

The NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is sponsoring a series of phase 1 ZPIV trials while the technology transfer process is under way, Sanofi said.

Company officials said in the statement that they are assessing if they can use the technology they've successfully used for other flavivirus vaccines but are open to considering other pathways to get the candidate vaccine into clinical practice.

John Shiver, PhD, Sanofi's senior vice president for research and development, said in the statement, "We're looking at this from both a short- and long-term perspective, collaborating to get into the clinic quicker to provide a vaccine in response to the current emergency, and adapting our own technology to ensure production capacity of a vaccine for years to come."

Latest research

  • Based on lab experiments, researchers from Louisiana State University yesterday reported antibody findings that add support to the idea that earlier dengue infection can enhance Zika infection. Their finding that Zika virus infection in vitro is enhanced in the presence of the dengue type 2 monoclonal antibody 4G2 appeared yesterday in PLoS Currents Outbreaks.

  • Extensive brain destruction and collapse of the upper cranial bones in the fetuses of mothers infected with Zika virus during the first trimester might produce hallmark patterns, including a pointed occiput on computed tomography, researchers from Brazil's Fiocruz Institute reported yesterday in a brief neuroimaging report in Neurology.

See also:

Jul 5 NIH press release

Jul 5 AP story

Jul 6 Sanofi Pasteur press release

Jun 28 CIDRAP News story "Zika animal studies yield new disease clues, optimism for vaccine"

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