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Partha S. Sahana / CC BY 2.0

Penn researchers have developed a first-of-its-kind vaccine to fight the Zika virus that demonstrates both safety and effectiveness.

Participants in a clinical trial who received three doses of the GLS-5700 vaccine developed Zika-specific antibodies with minimal negative effects. These results open the door to future clinical trials and possible government approval for the vaccine. The study, which was published earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine, was a joint project of the Perelman School of Medicine, the Wistar Institute, Inovio Pharmaceuticals and GeneOne Life Science, Inc.  

The new vaccine is based on synthetic DNA and works by giving instructions for the immune system to attack a specific Zika virus antigen. Researchers are optimistic that the new synthetic DNA vaccines can be applied both to the Zika virus and other similar diseases. These DNA-based vaccines are also “likely important as viable options for the future of vaccines," said Pablo Tebas,  a professor of infectious diseases at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Research into Zika vaccines was spurred by a 2015-2016 outbreak of the virus across South America, North America and the Caribbean. Thousands of cases were also reported in the United States, including one at nearby Lehigh University. Currently, no approved vaccines or treatments for Zika are available, although several are being developed in clinical trials.