Moving Science, Drug Development, Drug Discovery

NIAID contracts with Southern Research to study Zika

July 14, 2016

Southern Research has received a contract from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand their research on the Zika virus (ZIKV). The award is for an initial $901,048, with a possibility of increasing up to nearly $3.9 million over the next two years, in accordance with Contract No. HHSN2722010000221.

The funds have been awarded for the development of a non-human primate model of ZIKV infection for product evaluation. 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. The resulting model will serve as a resource to inform research around possible vaccines or therapeutics for ZIKV disease.

“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 Jonathan Rayner, Ph.D., principal investigator on the project, and head of infectious disease research, Drug Development, at Southern Research. “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.”

ZIKV is spread primarily through the bite of an Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito, 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. With a growing number of confirmed ZIKV cases in the United States, there is no known vaccine or treatment for the virus.

“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.”

The research will be led by Jonathan Rayner, Ph.D. in collaboration with Senior Project Leader Fusataka Koide, Ph.D. In addition to the non-human primate model that is the subject of this contract, Southern Research 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.

About Southern Research
Southern Research is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) research institution with nearly 500 scientists and engineers working to solve some of the world’s hardest problems across four key divisions: Drug Discovery, Drug Development, Engineering, and Energy & Environment. Founded in 1941, 2016 marks Southern Research’s 75 Anniversary. Over this time, the institution built a trusted name for itself, and has continually worked 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. Headquartered in Birmingham, Southern Research has additional laboratories and offices in Wilsonville and Huntsville, Alabama; Frederick, Maryland; Durham, North Carolina; Cartersville, Georgia; and Houston, Texas. For more information, please visit

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