HHS advances third Ebola vaccine development

The Department of Health and Human Services will fast-track the development of a third Ebola vaccine that had a 100 percent success rate with non-human primates, the agency said in a release Thursday.

“We are pushing hard to advance the development of multiple products as quickly as possible for clinical evaluation and future use in preventing or treating this deadly disease,” said Robin Robinson, the director of the agency’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

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“Our goal is to close the global gap in vaccines and therapeutics needed to protect the public health from Ebola as highlighted by the epidemic in West Africa.”

Health and Human Services awarded $5.8 million to Profectus BioSciences Inc., a Baltimore-based company, for one year to continue developing the vaccine candidate. If successful, the Food and Drug Administration will need to approve the vaccine candidate before it begins trials on humans.

The vaccine had success in experimental studies supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Defense Department, but needs to undergo further animal safety trials.

A spike in Ebola outbreaks spreading from West Africa has led to an increased push for potential vaccines.

An experimental drug called ZMapp was used to treat a number of patients, with mixed results. It was successfully used in the treatment of two U.S. Ebola patients who survived the disease, but others have died despite taking the drug. The company that makes ZMapp recently said that the supply is exhausted. 

There are currently two experimental vaccines in the first phase of clinical trials. During a congressional hearing Thursday, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci said that it’s important that clinical trials have started, but he said a timeline will greatly depend on the severity of the outbreak and various logistical hurdles. 

“We may need a vaccine to actually be an important part of the control of the epidemic itself, as opposed to what the original purpose of it, which was protect healthcare workers alone," he said.

Fauci also added there hasn’t been a “large market” for an Ebola vaccine; previous outbreaks affected fewer than 3,000 people. He said a recent willingness of pharmaceutical companies to get on board has helped move the process forwards.  

 

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.