The United Nation’s health agency has said that an Ebola vaccine should be available for public use by 2015.
The assistant director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Marie-Paule Kieny, said that this timeframe is realistic as clinical trials are expected to commence soon.
Currently, there is no cure or vaccine for the disease, which has spread across sections of West Africa and killed more than 900 people since the outbreak began during March. The epidemic has affected Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and is said to be one of the largest and most brutal in history. It has been declared an international public health emergency.
The head of immunisation and vaccines at the WHO, Jean-Marie Okwo Bele, said that emergency procedures will be put in place to allow for a vaccine to be available by 2015. He said that GlaxoSmithKline will commence trials next month, but the pharmaceutical company started its own initial development of the vaccine during May 2013.
The company’s website states that they are working with the US National Institute of Health’s Vaccine Research Center to advance the development of a vaccine for the early stages of Ebola. The pharmaceutical company acquired the vaccine when they bought Okairos during May 2013.
The vaccine has been evaluated by both GSK and VRC during pre-clinical studies and discussions are going ahead with regulators to advance the process to a phase 1 clinical trial programme later during this year.
A GSK spokeswoman said it was too early to speculate on the timing as their vaccine candidate is in its early stages of development and not yet ready for use.
These developments come as two US aid workers who have been affected with the virus seem to be responding positively to an experimental treatment plan which had only been used on monkeys previously. Both Nancy Writebol and Dr Kent Brantly are said to be improving due to a serum named ZMapp.
The administration of the drug upset West African authorities as it had not been offered to them.
Three of the leading British experts on Ebola said some of the experimental treatments which are currently being studied should be made available to governments in Africa.
A joint statement from Peter Piot, who discovered Ebola during 1976, the Wellcome Trust’s Jeremy Farrar and the Director of the Chatham House Centre on Global Health Security, David Heymann, stated that they should be allowed to make their own informed decisions as to whether they want to use the products or not. For example it could be used for the protection and treatment of healthcare workers who are at particular risk of infection.
Liberia’s assistant health minister, Tolbert Nyenswah, said the treatment of the missionaries has made their job more difficult as dying patients and their kin are requesting the same drug.
Guinea, where Ebola was first seen earlier this year, has announced closure of their land borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Nigeria has reported 13 Ebola cases and two deaths, and has declared it a national emergency. The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has approved £7m to aid in combating the spread of this fatal disease.
Image Credit: Maxwell Hamilton