Ames, Iowa company working on Zika Virus vaccine

Local News

Newlink Genetics, a research company in Ames, is attempting to develop a Zika virus vaccine.

At this time last year, researchers say the Zika virus was not on anyone’s radar and was practically dormant.  

Within ten months, that has all changed.

“What was amazing was there were no cases and now it’s over 1.5 million in Brazil. It’s incredible, that’s just from last year,” said Brian Martin, Newlink Genetics.

The virus, first discovered in primates in Uganda in the 1940’s, has now spread to a pandemic.

According to the CDC, the virus has moved from Southeast Asia and Africa, to a massive outbreak in Brazil. So far, the CDC says there have been more than 50 travel-associated cases in the United States.

Recently, NewLink Genetics, a cancer research company based out of Ames, has thrown their hat into the ring. Two years ago, they gained fame for their research for an Ebola vaccine.

Now the researchers are attempting to find a vaccine to battle the mosquito-born illness.

“It’s all in the planning stages. For every company, it’s in the planning stages. Like I said, this virus wasn’t recognized as a threat, but now several different companies have said it’s a critical avenue for research and we need to start looking at vaccine research,” said Martin.

The virus’ symptoms are dizzy, fever, rash, muscle pain and joint pain. They are subtle and sometimes go unrecognized.

“It feels like a mild flu. With most people, that’s what happens and they don’t know they’re infected,” said Martin.

In the little research done, the virus itself has been associated with serious health issues including birth defects like microcephaly. Microcephaly is when the infant’s brain is abnormally small, effecting the brain development.

“Everything points to that being the case, so yes, it’s scary this association,” said Martin.

Of the two species of mosquitoes known to carry the Zika virus, one species is found here in Iowa. However, researchers say the unknowns outweigh the known at this point.

“We don’t know if Zika can survive the winters in places like this. We don’t know whether the virus can evolve and be transferred from person to person consistently,” said Martin.

Researchers say the race is on not to find the cure, but the solution. Martin said there’s no set timeline on when a vaccine could be produced.

“We’re trying to do that as quickly as we can, within the constraints of that we do it right. This is a public health emergency and whoever can get there and get an effective vaccine, it’s good for the whole world really.”

To read more about the CDC recommendations, visit

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