NIH Accelerates Human Testing for Experimental Ebola Vaccine

Davy James, Associate Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, August 19, 2014
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Ebola-related death toll climbs above 1200 as health care workers face increased threats from desperate region.

Efforts to develop a vaccine for the Ebola virus are being ramped up while the situation in West Africa continues to deteriorate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) today announced the death toll from Ebola has now risen above 1200, with more than 2000 confirmed and suspected cases. With the outbreak continuing to grow, the National Institute of Health (NIH) said it would speed up human clinical trials for a new vaccine to fight the virus.

It was initially announced that testing of the experimental vaccine would begin in January 2015, but the NIH told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that it hopes to finish the first phase of the trial by the end of November.

“We’re dealing with an urgent situation,” Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in the report. “We want to respond as safely as we can, but also as quickly as we can.”

The NIH’s Vaccine Research Center is collaborating on the vaccine with Swiss-Italian biotech company Okairos, which was recently acquired by GlaxoSmithKline. The treatment does not contain infectious Ebola material; instead, it is a chimpanzee adenovirus vector vaccine with 2 Ebola genes inserted.

The drug enters a cell and then delivers the gene inserts without replicating any further, according to the NIH. The human body then generates an immune response to a protein that expresses from the gene inserts.

As the outbreak continues to spread in West Africa, the populace of the affected countries have become more desperate, placing health care workers in an increasingly hazardous work environment. A quarantine center in the capitol of Liberia’s largest slum was raided on Saturday by angry residents, who stole items from the clinic that include infected bloodstained mattresses, sheets, and blankets, which could potentially exacerbate the outbreak in the country, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) said last week that pharmacies in Liberia have experienced a surge of people seeking essential medicines due to an increasing number of residents who are reluctant to go to hospitals and clinics after health care workers became infected.

With the dire situation becoming more dangerous for health care workers, WHO noted that threats to health care professionals in the affected African countries have become a “worrying element” of the Ebola outbreak, as these workers are providing critical medical care at great personal risk.

WHO is seeking to raise awareness about the dangers faced by health care workers fighting the disease as part of today’s recognition of World Humanitarian Day.

“Assaults on health workers and facilities seriously affect access to health care, depriving patients of treatment and interrupting measures to prevent and control contagious diseases,” said Dr. Richard Brennan, director of WHO’s Department of Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response in a press release. “WHO has a specific mandate to protect the human right to health, especially for people affected by humanitarian emergencies.”

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