A vaccine found to be 100% effective in protecting monkeys from Ebola is to be rushed through human trials – after sitting unused on a lab shelf for ten years. The vaccine, known as VSV-EBOV, even had had its results published in a respected journal, and health officials called them exciting. However, it then languished on a lab shelf after being licensed to a drug firm – until now.
Studies already done in primates found that it prevents infection when given before exposure and increases survival chances when given after exposure. The intellectual property rights for the vaccine belong to the Government of Canada, and NewLink, a private company that owns the licensing rights to the vaccine, has the responsibility to produce mass quantities and to bring the vaccine to clinical trials.
‘On October 13, 2014, the Government of Canada announced the start of clinical trials for the vaccine at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the United States,’ the Canadian Health Agency said. ‘These trials will provide critical information about the safety of the vaccine and appropriate dosage. Results from the clinical trial are expected in December 2014.’
NewLink Genetics says at least five clinical trials involving the vaccine, known as VSV-EBOV, will soon be under way in the United States, Germany, Switzerland and in an unnamed African country which is not battling Ebola. The work stalled due to a lack on interest in Ebola, and because there were cases. ‘There’s never been a big market for Ebola vaccines,’ Thomas W. Geisbert, an Ebola expert at the University of Texas and one of the developers of the vaccine, told the Boston Globe. So big pharma, who are they going to sell it to?’
Geisbert said: ‘It takes a crisis sometimes to get people talking. ‘OK. We’ve got to do something here.’ The vaccine was produced in Winnipeg by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and is the product of more than 10 years of scientific research by Public Health Agency of Canada scientists at the National Microbiology Laboratory. The Canadian government patented it, and 800 to 1,000 vials of the vaccine were produced. In 2010, it licensed the vaccine, known as VSV-EBOV, to NewLink Genetics, in Ames, Iowa.
The Canadian government donated the existing vials to the World Health Organization, and safety tests of the vaccine in healthy volunteers have already begun. ‘The Public Health Agency of Canada is supplying the vaccine to the WHO in its role as the international coordinating body for the Ebola outbreak, so that the vaccine can be made available as an international resource,’ officials said.
‘The WHO, in consultation with partners, including the health authorities from the affected countries, will guide and facilitate how the vaccine should be distributed and used. The remaining vials of the vaccine will be kept in Canada for further research and compassionate use as required.’ The research is part of a rush of research to test drugs and vaccines is underway, with clinical trials starting for several candidates, including the vaccine produced nearly a decade ago. With no vaccines or proven drugs currently available, the stepped up efforts are a desperate measure to stop a disease that has defied traditional means of containing it.