British researchers will start testing a potential Ebola cure on human volunteers in the United Kingdom, Gambia and Mali as early as September as part of an urgent effort to combat the disease that has killed more than 1,400 people since the current outbreak was detected in West Africa in March. The vaccinations will be administered after the vaccine receives ethical and regulatory approvals, according to the Wellcome Trust, one of several London-based organizations funding the research. Researchers also hope to manufacture 10,000 additional doses of the vaccine to ensure a quick immunization program if the trials are successful.
The potential vaccine uses a single Ebola virus protein "to generate an immune response," the Wellcome Trust said. Preclinical research found the vaccine resulted in health improvements in non-human primates exposed to Ebola, without significant side effects. The study will initially involve 60 healthy volunteers in the U.K. The trials in Gambia and Mali will involve 40 people each. The emergency trials are being co-developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline. A £2.8 million ($4.6 million) grant from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the U.K. Department for International Development is funding the effort.
“The tragic events unfolding in Africa demand an urgent response," Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford, which will oversee the tests, said in a statement Thursday. "In recent years, similar investigational vaccines have safely immunized infants and adults against a range of diseases including malaria, HIV and hepatitis C. We, and all our partners on this project, are optimistic that this candidate vaccine may prove useful against Ebola.”
The World Health Organization said Thursday that nearly 40 percent of the total number of reported cases have occurred within the past three weeks, indicating that the outbreak isn't slowing down. The survival rate is 47 percent.
"This epidemic has shown how difficult it can be to control Ebola," Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said in a statement Thursday. "How useful drugs and vaccines might be in complementing existing public health interventions can only be assessed in epidemics. The initial safety work we're announcing today with our international partners will hopefully make that possible during this crisis and for inevitable future epidemics.”
Clinical trials for a new vaccine are traditionally a long, complex process that last more than a decade, GlaxoSmithKline officials said in a statement. The drug company recently spent 30 years on a potential malaria vaccine slated to hit the market next year if found successful.