University of Texas, Brazil reach deal on Zika vaccine

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil is signing an agreement with the University of Texas to develop a vaccine against the Zika virus, the country’s health minister said Thursday, adding the goal is for the vaccine to be ready for clinical testing within 12 months.

Marcelo Castro said at a news conference that the Brazilian government will invest $1.9 million in the research, which will be jointly conducted by the University of Texas and the Evandro Chagas Institute in the Amazonian city of Belem.

He said the Health Ministry also has reached vaccine partnerships with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is looking to work with pharmaceutical giant GSK.

Brazilian officials have previously said any vaccine for the disease could take three to five years.

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Brazil’s Zika outbreak has become a public health crisis since researchers here linked the mosquito-borne virus to a surge in a rare birth defects compromising infants’ brains. The connection has yet to be scientifically proven, but the CDC has pointed to strong evidence of a link between the two and called on pregnant women to avoid travel to 22 countries with active outbreaks.

Castro said WHO chief Margaret Chan is expected to visit Brazil on Feb. 23.

An initial delegation of 15 researchers from the CDC was slated to arrive in Brazil on Friday, Castro said.