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GSK Ebola vaccine underway

Published on 11/08/14 at 09:04am
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Clinical trials of an experimental vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus will begin soon according to its developers GlaxoSmithKline.

The news follows an update by a spokesman for the World Health Organization who told a French radio station that trials begin in September, with the vaccine ready to roll-out by 2015 all being well. 

Jean-Marie Okwo Bele who is the WHO’s head of vaccines and immunisation, told the station: “We are targeting September for the start of clinical trials, first in the United States and certainly in African countries, since that’s where we have the cases.” 

But GSK is not being drawn on a possible timeline for launch, telling Reuters that: “It is right at the beginning of the development journey and still has a very long way to go.”

Ebola is highly contagious and kills up to 90% of people infected and is passed by touching bodily fluids of patients, and can still be infectious even after they die.

The virus has killed over 900 people in four West African countries since the outbreak began in February in Guinea, having now spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, making it the world's deadliest outbreak to date.

GSK’s potential treatment for the virus was acquired after it bought the Swiss-based biotech firm Okairos for €250 million ($335 million) in 2013.

The vaccine which contains no infectious Ebola virus material, is based on an adenovirus (which causes common colds) for chimpanzees, into which two Ebola genes have been inserted.

Once the vaccine enters a cell and transports its genetic consignment, the two gene inserts produce a protein that generates an immune response in the body - but the adenovirus carrying the genes does not replicate further.

GSK's partner The US NIAID – which is part of the National Institutes of Health – is also supporting work on other early-stage Ebola vaccines, including one from Johnson & Johnson’s Crucell unit that should enter Phase I in late 2015 or early 2016.

A GSK spokeswoman for the firm told The Independent on its offering: “It’s too early to speculate on timing. GSK and the VRC appreciate the very serious nature of the current Ebola outbreak, however, our vaccine candidate is at a very early stage of development and is not yet ready for use in these circumstances.”

Brett Wells

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