Intrexon Corporation (NYSE: XON), a leader in synthetic biology, today announced that Oxitec, a UK-based subsidiary of the Company, is prepared to increase supplies of its proprietary mosquito control solution, OX513A, through its Brazil facilities to assist Brazil in addressing the recent devastating outbreak of the Zika virus and other diseases transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. With a model in place for the deployment of Oxitec's solution in the municipality of Piracicaba, Brazil, the most heavily impacted regions of the country can be supplied OX513A as necessary.
"Oxitec's mosquito, locally known as 'Friendly Aedes aegypti', is a revolutionary and environmentally sustainable tool that has already shown suppression of infestations of the wild Aedes aegypti mosquito, a goal which we've been trying to achieve for many years in Brazil but haven't been able to. This solution is even more important today because beyond the dengue epidemic, we now have the Zika virus and chikungunya in Brazil," said Professor Wagner Pereira from Veiga de Almeida University.
Like many invasive insect species, Aedes aegypti's territory is expanding as are the diseases it spreads, including Zika virus, dengue and chikungunya, which collectively impact over 100 countries and approximately 400 million people around the world. With respect to the Zika virus, sporadic human cases were reported as early as the 1960s in Asia and Africa, yet the first major outbreak did not occur until 2007 within the Federated States of Micronesia. More recently Zika virus has spread to ten countries in the Americas including Colombia, El Salvador, Panama and Brazil.
The rising number of Zika disease cases in Brazil has corresponded with a spike in microcephaly cases, a birth defect resulting from incomplete brain development. The Brazilian government reports there are 1,248 suspected cases of microcephaly in 311 cities across 14 states this year. As a result, the Brazil Health Ministry has announced emergency response planning to control the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. In a recent statement, the Secretary of Health of the Brazilian state of Bahia noted alternative strategies to combat the mosquito should be encouraged, as it has become the major threat to public health of the country.
Samuel Broder, M.D., Senior Vice President and Head of Intrexon's Health Sector commented, "The Aedes aegypti mosquito represents a dramatic and ever-increasing challenge to public health and economies of nations, due to its capacity to transmit a growing list of devastating diseases across an expanding global footprint. Already battling a dengue epidemic courtesy of these disease-transmitting mosquitoes, the tenuous situation in Brazil has been further aggravated by the recent introduction and expansion of Zika virus infections." Dr. Broder continued, "With no preventative vaccines or curative medicines and now an emerging threat of potentially affiliated ailments to the Zika virus including congenital anomalies such as microcephaly and neurological disorders such as Guillain–Barré syndrome prompting an epidemiological alert from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization last week, effective strategies are required. We believe Oxitec's self-limiting gene platform can play an important role in meeting these growing threats and provide a powerful disease-vector control strategy in response to these epidemics."
Approved for commercial release in 2014 by Brazil's National Technical Commission for Biosafety (CTNBio), Oxitec's self-limiting mosquitoes, which precisely target the disease-transmitting vector, provide a safe approach to prevent infections with no adverse impact to the environment. Efficacy trials in Brazil, Panama, and the Cayman Islands have shown decreases in the population of Aedes aegypti of greater than 92% including a 99% reduction in Mandacaru, Brazil. With over 100 peer-reviewed publications and its focus on sustainable methods to control insect pests that spread disease or damage crops, Oxitec has collaborative projects in over ten countries which have resulted in the first releases of bioengineered insects globally.
Through cooperation of the Brazilian government and Oxitec, Piracicaba is the world's first municipality to launch a program aimed at battling dengue fever through Oxitec's solution. The Friendly Aedes aegypti project in the CECAP/Eldorado neighbourhood of Piracicaba has achieved a clear reduction of mosquito levels in the overall treated area in comparison with the control area. As a result, Oxitec is now moving into the next phase of this project where releases become even more targeted to concentrate on mosquito 'hotspots' that crop up during the rainy season. These releases will support a sustained suppression of the mosquito pest that spreads dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus.
"With the recent outbreak of Zika virus and the growing dengue epidemic that has impacted over 1.5 million Brazilians in 2015 alone, we have received an increasing number of requests from various municipalities and local governments and stand prepared to support any actions taken by the government," stated Hadyn Parry, Oxitec's Chief Executive Officer.