(Adds Merck statement)
By Amrutha Penumudi and Natalie Grover
Jan 25 (Reuters) - GlaxoSmithKline Plc is concluding feasibility studies evaluating whether its vaccine technology is suitable for the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in thousands of babies in Brazil, a spokeswoman told Reuters.
Zika will likely spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organization said on Monday.
The virus has not yet been reported in the continental United States, although a woman who fell ill with the virus in Brazil later gave birth to a brain-damaged baby in Hawaii.
Zika is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also known to carry the dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses.
There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which typically causes mild fevers and rashes, although about 80 percent of those infected show no symptoms.
“We’re concluding our feasibility studies as quickly as we can to see if our vaccine technology platforms might be suitable for working on Zika,” Glaxo spokeswoman Anna Padula said in an email. She declined to provide details but added that vaccine development typically takes 10 to 15 years.
France’s Sanofi SA, which won approval late last year for the first dengue vaccine, has said it is reviewing the possibility of applying its technology for Zika.
“However, there are too many unknowns about Zika to reliably judge the ability to research and develop a vaccine effectively,” a spokesman said in an email in early January.
Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd said last week it was entirely focused on addressing dengue, and that its experimental vaccine was not designed to cover Zika.
A spokeswoman for Merck & Co Inc, which will likely be one of the first makers of an Ebola vaccine, said the company was not currently engaged in research to prevent or treat the Zika virus.
“But we are watching closely and connecting with partners to see how our knowledge and capabilities might be useful in helping to accelerate progress on this front,” she said. (Reporting by Natalie Grover and Amrutha Penumudi in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D‘Souza and Ted Kerr)