Johnson & Johnson to Fast Track Development of Ebola Vaccine

Experimental vaccine could begin clinical trials in humans in early 2015.

Experimental vaccine could begin clinical trials in humans in early 2015.

A promising new treatment that boosts the body’s immune response to the Ebola virus could begin clinical testing early next year.

Johnson & Johnson announced today it will fast track a vaccine regimen with 2 components developed by the company’s Netherlands-based subsidiary Crucell NV, along with the Denmark-based biotech firm Bavarian Nordic. With direct funding and preclinical services from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the collaborative effort is expected to initiate clinical trials of the combined regimen in humans early in 2015.

“Our primary goal in this escalating Ebola epidemic is to assist governments in protecting health care workers, families, and populations who are at high risk of being infected with Ebola as soon as possible in an effort to stop the disease from spreading further,” said Paul Stoffels, MD, chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson in a press release. “With a strong heritage in collaborative partnerships and a proven track record in the rapid development and access of innovative products, we aim to ultimately eradicate deadly diseases like Ebola and save lives around the world.”

The announcement from Johnson & Johnson comes on the heels of a promising Ebola vaccine co-developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline that began human testing this week. The NIH is also working with Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to develop an Ebola drug based on a rabies virus vaccine that has been found to protect animals against rabies and Ebola infection.

ZMapp, the experimental Ebola drug manufactured by San Diego—based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc, also announced last week strong results from an animal trial in which 100% of primates infected with Ebola recovered after treatment with the drug up to 5 days after infection.

The treatment in development by Johnson & Johnson acts as a preventive vaccine against filoviruses, including the Ebola virus. The treatment involves a combination regimen harnessing the potency of dual vaccines to generate protective immunity against the Zaïre species of the Ebola virus currently ravaging West Africa.

The combination regimen was able to completely protect vaccinated macaques against disease and death after they were exposed to the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus.

The treatment utilizes vaccine technology platforms from both companies that have been found to be immunogenic and safe in humans for other applications, according to Johnson & Johnson. The collaborative effort also allows each company to produce 1 element of the combination regimen for accelerated development of the vaccine.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that the Ebola virus could infect more than 20,000 people in West Africa before the outbreak is brought under control. To date, the virus has killed more than 1500 people, with more than 3000 confirmed and suspected cases, according to the WHO.

“In light of the current emergency in West Africa and given the evident, huge unmet medical need, we are stepping up our efforts and accelerating the Ebola program currently in pre-clinical development,” said Johan Van Hoof, MD, managing director of Crucell in a press release. “We recognize the urgency of the situation and the need to collaborate with multiple partners to develop treatment and preventive solutions for Ebola.”