All eyes are on Brazil and not just because of the summer Olympics in Rio.

Although it has been one of the world's most successful emerging economies, Brazil faces corruption at the highest levels, stunted growth and mounting debt. And then there is the Zika virus.

Northeast Brazil was the epicenter of last year's Zika outbreak, which has since spread to several other parts of the Americas.

Initially transmitted through the bite of the Aedes species mosquito and spread through sexual contact and childbirth, Zika has earned the status of Public Health Emergency of International Concern from the World Health Organization.

As a result, pharmaceutical companies are racing to develop a vaccine to arrest Zika's spread. Along the way, there will be plenty of opportunities for investors, including shares of one under-the-radar company, VBI Vaccines (VBIV - Get Report) .

One big pharma company working on a vaccine is Sanofi of France. Along with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the U.S., Sanofi, through its vaccine unit, Sanofi Pasteur, is working to quickly bring to market a Zika vaccine and to ensure its continued development.

But that doesn't come cheap. The company's first vaccine for dengue, a related ailment, took 20 years of development and $1 billion in funds.

Close on the heels of this development came the announcement of another big pharma firm engaging in Zika research and development: the U.K.'s GlaxoSmithKline.

In collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, GlaxoSmithKline will, after months of effort, proceed with its self-amplifying mRNA, dubbed SAM.

But VBI Vaccines, with a market capitalization of just $136.22 million, is also working to provide solutions for Zika.

VBI Vaccines leverages its enveloped virus-like particle (eVLP) Platform to create prevention solutions for a variety of ailments. This platform helps develop vaccines that closely mimic the structure of viruses found in nature, minus the viral genome, which would help create potentially safer and more potent vaccine candidates.

The company is already using the platform to address the cytomegalovirus (CMV) through a prophylactic vaccine, now in Phase 1 trials, and an immuno-oncology vaccine for glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain cancer.

VBI Vaccines is using the platform and the expertise that it has gathered from the development of its CMV vaccine candidate to develop a vaccine for prevention of Zika.

Instilling further faith in the possibility that the company's efforts will bear fruit is the leadership and ownership at VBI Vaccines.

Dr. Steven Gillis serves as chairman of VBI Vaccines. He founded Immunex, which was eventually sold to Amgen.

Jeff Baxter, chief executive of VBI Vaccines, was previously a senior executive at GlaxoSmithKline.

VBI Vaccines' top five institutional holders -- Opko Health, CLS Therapeutics, Clarus Ventures, Arch Advisors and Perceptive Advisors -- control more than 50% of the company's shares outstanding, with management holding an additional 1.3% of common stock, excluding options.

Companies developing prevention solutions for Zika are looking to Congress, which is expected to pass a funding bill when it returns from its break next month. In the meantime, VBI Vaccines remains a strong opportunity for investors who are looking for up-and-coming companies in this fast-paced sector.


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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.