Human trials of experimental Ebola vaccine begin in West Africa

Human trials of an experimental Ebola vaccine began in West Africa.
Human trials of an experimental Ebola vaccine began in West Africa.

A promising experimental Ebola vaccine has entered clinical trials involving a small sample of healthcare workers, according to a press release from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM), the Center for Vaccine Development of Mali (CVD-Mali), and the Ministry of Health of Mali.

The first subject was vaccinated on Wednesday, Oct. 8, and researchers announced plans to vaccinate two more participants Oct. 9. Over the next few weeks, 37 more health care workers will be vaccinated.

The vaccine contains an adenovirus that does not cause illness in humans. It has been modified so that it cannot multiply and produces a single attachment protein of the Ebola virus. In animal model challenge studies, immune responses to this protein have been highly protective. Researchers hope that human immune systems will have similar responses.

"This research will give us crucial information about whether the vaccine is safe, well tolerated, and capable of stimulating adequate immune responses in the highest priority target population: health care workers in West Africa," said Myron M. Levine, MD, director of the Center of Vaccine Development at UM SOM. "If it works, in the foreseeable future it could help alter the dynamic of this epidemic by interrupting transmission to health care and other exposed front-line workers."

Scientists developed this vaccine at the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.. Usually, it takes between 6 to 11 months for a vaccine to transition from animal trials to clinical trials in a developing country where subjects are at risk of the natural disease. Under these extreme circumstances, a consortium was able to obtain all the necessary ethical, regulatory agency, technical, and administrative permissions in just 2 months.

"This is just the critical first step in a series of additional clinical trials that will have to be carried out to fully evaluate the promising vaccine," said Samba Sow, MD, director general of CVD-Mali. "However, if it is eventually shown to work and if this information can be generated fast enough, it could become a public health tool to bring the current, and future, Ebola virus disease epidemics under control."

Due to the recent increase in Ebola vaccine research funding, GlaxoSmithKline (the vaccine's manufacturer) will begin manufacturing at least 10,000 additional doses of the vaccine as the first clinical trials are occurring.

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