Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro said Thursday that his country is hopeful it can develop a vaccine for the Zika virus faster than is typically required, possibly within the next 12 months.
Castro and Pedro Vasconcelos, a doctor at the Evandro Chagas Institute of Infectious Diseases, announced a partnership with vaccine researchers from the University of Texas, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Brazil pledging $1.9 million to the effort over the next five years.
"We know that it takes a while, but both on the part of the university and on the part of the Evandro Chagas Institute, there is great optimism that we could develop this vaccine in less time than originally foreseen. Pedro Vasconcelos is very optimistic about the work being done and believes that within a year we could have the vaccine in its developed form, not in its applied form," said Castro.
Vasconcelos said they would try to save time by conducting pre-clinical trials during the first year of research in both Brazil and the U.S. This would allow for clinical trials to begin in year two.
The government believes that as many as 1.5 million Brazilians may have been infected by Zika. Brazil has seen by far the most cases of the virus.
Causing the greatest concern is the potential link between Zika and microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small heads in newborn children that can result in developmental problems.
Castro said that the researchers would also investigate this alleged link.
There is as yet no definitive proof of a relationship between Zika and microcephaly.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has there are 3,177 pregnant Colombian women who are infected with Zika, but that there are no recorded cases of Zika-linked microcephaly.
Castro said the ministry hopes to distribute tests soon that could be used to speed up diagnoses of patients with active symptoms of Zika, dengue and Chikungunya, other viruses spread by mosquitoes.