Volunteers based in Oxford will be provided with an Ebola experimental vaccine in fast-tracked emergency trials to commence during September.
The vaccine will consist of a single Ebola protein which will not infect the volunteers with the live Ebola virus.
When the trials start at Oxford University, about 10000 doses will be manufactured to ensure that it can be used quickly if the trials prove to be successful.
The vaccine which has been developed by the US National Institute of Health and GlaxoSmithKline has been fast-tracked with a grant of £2.8m received from the Wellcome Trust, the UK Department for International Development and the Medical Research Council.
To start with, 60 volunteers will receive the vaccine injection at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute. If they indicate a good immune response and experience few side effects, a further 40 volunteers in Gambia will be given the vaccine.
The volunteer programme could start as early as mid-September based on the receipt of regulatory and ethical approval. The volunteers will not be exposed to the Ebola virus once they have been vaccinated. Blood tests will determine whether their bodies have developed protection from the virus.
The vaccine has already shown effectiveness in animals and is being developed in response to the massive Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which has already claimed in excess of 1400 lives.
If the initial Oxford volunteers show a good response with limited side-effects, the trial will, after approval from authorities be used on volunteers at the Gambian MRC Unit, which will commence the second stage of the study.
The Oxford study is set to involve 60 healthy volunteers, while the ones in Gambia and Mali will involve 40 each. Each group of volunteers will be divided into sub-groups of 20 each who will be given different dosages to allow researchers to evaluate the best dosage level as regards activity and safety.
Similar trials are occurring in America, along with another vaccine which has been designed to protect against this and an alternate strain of Ebola.
It is hoped that the trials will be completed by the end of this year, when the deployment of the vaccine will be fast-tracked if it proves to be effective and safe.
The director of Wellcome Trust, Dr Jeremy Farrar, said this particular epidemic has highlighted the difficulty in controlling Ebola. He added that the usefulness of vaccines and drugs, along with existing public health interventions can only be assessed during epidemics. He said that the initial safety work being announced with international partners will possibly make this possible during the current crisis and for potential future epidemics.
The director of MRC Unit, Gambia, Professor Umberto D’Alessandro, thanked the partnership between the UK’s MRC and the Ministry of Health in the Gambian government. He said that this coalition has provided the capacity and expertise to undertake trials to the highest standards of quality including trials for vaccines similar to the existing one.
He said that the trial will not offer benefit to those who are currently at risk of the virus, but there is hope that in the future people could be protected against Ebola.
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