WHO: Ebola vaccine to trial next month, may be ready by 2015

Aug. 11, 2014

As the number of deaths from Ebola hemorrhagic fever approached the 1,000 mark in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that clinical trials of a preventative vaccine for the Ebola virus made by British pharma company GlaxoSmithKline may begin next month, and the vaccine could be made available by 2015.

“We are targeting September for the start of clinical trials, first in the United States and certainly in African countries,” Jean-Marie Okwo Bele, the WHO's head of vaccines and immunization, told French radio. He said he was optimistic about making the vaccine commercially available. “We think that if we start in September, we could already have results by the end of the year…Since this is an emergency, we can put emergency procedures in place … so that we can have a vaccine available by 2015.”

Several vaccines are being tested. A treatment made by San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, ZMapp, has shown promising results on monkeys and may have been effective in treating two American healthcare workers who were recently infected in Africa, and have since been flown to Emory University Hospital for treatment.

Meanwhile, this week the WHO will convene a panel of medical ethicists to explore the use of experimental treatments in the ongoing Ebola outbreak. Currently there is no registered medicine against the virus, but there are several experimental options under development. The recent treatment of the two American health workers with ZMapp has raised ethical as well as clinical questions about whether a drug that has never been tested and shown to be safe in people should be used in the outbreak and, given the extremely limited amount of medicine available, who should receive it if it is used. Read full coverage of the Ebola epidemic at the WHO website.

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