Thousands of Ebola vaccine doses ready in months

A batch of experimental Ebola vaccine developed in Canada. Picture: Getty
A batch of experimental Ebola vaccine developed in Canada. Picture: Getty
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) set out plans yesterday for speeding up development and deployment of experimental Ebola vaccines, saying ­hundreds of thousands of doses should be ready for use in West Africa by the middle of 2015.

The United Nations health agency confirmed two ­leading vaccine “candidates” are in human clinical trials, and said another five experimental vaccines were being developed and would begin clinical trials next year.

“Before the end of the first half of 2015, we could have available a few hundred thousand doses. That could be 200,000, it could be less or could be more,” the WHO’s Marie-Paule Kieny said after a meeting in Geneva of industry executives, global health experts, drug regulators and funders.

Researchers are testing two candidate vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline and NewLink ­Genetics. “At least five vaccines are following closely and will be in the clinic in the first months of 2015,” Ms Kieny said.

Among those is a potential shot from Johnson & Johnson, which is set to enter human ­trials in January.

Ms Kieny, the WHO’s assistant director general for health ­systems and innovation, said: “Vaccines are not a magic bullet, but when ready they may be a good part of the effort to turn the tide against the epidemic.”

Experts aim to conduct a range of different clinical trials in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to produce the first efficacy data by around April, she said. Plans are most advanced for Liberia, where two different Ebola vaccines would be ­compared against a control, or placebo, vaccine.

WHO officials believe up to one million doses of an Ebola vaccine will be produced by the end of 2015 and that vaccines could be offered to health workers on the frontline in West ­Africa as soon as this December.

Ms Kieny said there was a lot of discussion during the meeting about financing, with a number of entities including the World Bank and the international ­charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) making commitments to help fund Ebola vaccine trials, distribution and deployment.

Drug manufacturers had also pledged to ensure any shots they do develop would be priced at an affordable level.

GSK’s chief executive Andrew Witty said companies would need some kind of indemnity from governments or multi-
lateral agencies for the widespread emergency use of vaccines in Africa, since the usual years-long process of safety testing has had to be shortened to a matter of months.

Ms Kieny said the discussions on financing also included suggestions that a fund could be created to indemnify companies in case people had adverse reactions to the new Ebola shots.

She also said five other ­possible Ebola vaccines should start being tested in March.

Yet in an indication of how the rising spread of Ebola is ­upending many attempts to halt this year’s outbreak, Ms Kieny admitted that plans were changing “week to week” as ­governments, health agencies and donor countries tried to speed up efforts.