An antibody that can potentially be used to treat the Zika virus has been given the green light to be tested on Singapore patients.
The Health Sciences Authority has approved human trials here of the antibody known as Tyzivumab.
The clinical trial, which is billed as a world's first, is administered by healthcare group SingHealth and overseen by the Singapore Clinical Research Institute (SCRI).
It comes after nine months of development by Tychan, a Singapore clinical-stage biotechnology company, in partnership with WuXi Biologics, which is based in China.
"The current paradigm of taking years to bring a drug from discovery to the clinic does not allow us to effectively deal with outbreaks of emerging diseases," said Mr Teo Ming Kian, chairman of Tychan.
"To make a difference to outbreak interventions, research discovery must be translated into medicines within such timelines. The development of Tyzivumab is a first step in this direction," he added.
About 24 healthy volunteers will take part in the first phase of the clinical trial, said Tychan, with two more phases likely to follow.
The current paradigm of taking years to bring a drug from discovery to the clinic does not allow us to effectively deal with outbreaks of emerging diseases. To make a difference to outbreak interventions, research discovery must be translated into medicines within such timelines. The development of Tyzivumab is a first step in this direction.
MR TEO MING KIAN, chairman of Tychan, on Tyzivumab being approved for human trial after nine months of development.
The antibody works by stopping the virus from fusing with a person's cells and replicating itself.
It has been proven safe and effective in animals, said Tychan in a media release last week.
The first case of locally transmitted Zika here was reported in August 2016 and by the end of that year, about 450 people had been infected.
The number of Zika cases has been low in the past year, with one case reported last month.
While the symptoms are usually mild, the virus has been linked to neurological complications such as microcephaly in babies born to women who contracted Zika during their pregnancy.
Nevertheless, Associate Professor Teoh Yee Leong, a public health physician and chief executive of SCRI, said: "It is very important for us to have a potential Zika therapeutics in the future to tackle the threat of Zika infection."
Singapore is at risk of Zika transmissions because of the presence of Aedes mosquitoes, the vector for such transmissions.
These mosquitoes also transmit dengue fever.
The drug development process is generally quite long and it could take many years before a new drug can be made available to the public.
But if this potential Zika therapeutics is successful, it would definitely be impactful to the medical community as this would be the first time a treatment for Zika is available, said Prof Teoh.
Currently, there is no specific treatment for Zika infection other than supportive management.