WHO Fast-Tracks Ebola Vaccine Trials in West Africa

Human trials to test the effectiveness of experimental vaccines for Ebola in West Africa will begin in December, earlier than expected and before the completion of safety trials, the World Health Organization said.

The mid-stage and late-stage trials to test vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline Plc and NewLink Genetics Corp. will first be conducted in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s assistant director-general for health systems and innovation, said today during a media briefing in Geneva. Mass vaccinations could begin in the second half of next year if the drugs are proven to be safe and effective, the epidemic scale justifies their use and there are sufficient quantities, she said.

As the number of new Ebola cases doubles each month, health authorities and pharmaceutical companies are working to speed up the development of vaccines to help curb the spread of the virus, which has infected almost 10,000 people this year and killed about half of them. J&J said this week it plans to have 250,000 doses of its vaccine ready for trials by May and 1 million doses for the full year.

“You see that all previous plans are changing from week to week,” Kieny said. “As we accelerate in a matter of weeks a process that typically takes years, we are ensuring that safety remains a top priority with production speed and capacity a close second.”

Dose Levels

The dose levels used in the placebo-controlled trials in Liberia and Sierra Leone may be adjusted and take into account results from the early-stage human safety tests as they become available, she said. Health workers will be among those who will be included in the trials. Trials of five more vaccines may begin by April, Kieny said.

Community workers, hygiene personnel, ambulance drivers, health promoters, contact tracers and people in charge of funerals should also be prioritized to receive the test vaccines, Doctors Without Borders said in a statement today.

“The message we heard from WHO, that the people fighting the epidemic will be among the first to test Ebola vaccines and treatments, is exactly the one we needed to hear,” said Bertrand Draguez, medical director for Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres. “This needs to be followed by massive roll out of vaccines to the general population once their efficacy is proven.”

(Corrects to remove reference to Johnson & Johnson in second paragraph of story published Oct. 24.)
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