Sanofi S.A., France’s largest pharmaceutical company, announced in a statement on September 1st that it would not be continuing work on a Zika vaccine that it has been developing since July 2016. The project, funded by a $43 million grant from the United States government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, will continue to be funded “to a point where development would be indefinitely paused but could be restarted if the epidemic re-emerges,” as per Sanofi spokesperson Ashleigh Koss.
There are still over thirty potential Zika vaccines in development around the world, so these funding cuts haven’t completely hobbled the medical research community. This announcement still raises two concerns, however:
- It clearly demonstrates how government funding can potentially impact public health. American politics are currently very volatile, to say the least, and medical research is not immune to the fallout. In fact, Donald Trump proposed a 22% budget cut to the National Institutes of Health six months ago in order to shore up funding for defense and border security. The proposal was defeated in Congress last week, and funding to the NIH was actually increased.
- Although transmissions of the Zika virus have decreased since 2016, it remains a highly infectious disease. At the height of the Zika epidemic, it was estimated that over a million people in Brazil had been infected with the virus. The World Health Organization still considers Zika “a highly significant and long-term problem,” and defunding research of the disease only increases the likelihood of further outbreaks.
Although relying on private enterprise to come up with solutions to public health issues comes with its own set of ethical concerns, it is still unfortunate that we have been deprived of one less opportunity to stop this disease in its tracks. Here’s hoping that it doesn’t take another resurgence of Zika for our government to squash this problem.