Ebola vaccine trials to begin in weeks

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plan to start testing Ebola vaccines through clinical trials in Liberia and Sierra Leone. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said the Liberia trial, which aims to test two different kinds of Ebola vaccines in three phases, could begin in the next couple of weeks. 

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“We were expecting to start by the last week in January, but there are some details that need to be ironed out regarding the FDA,” he said. “None are show stoppers, but things we need to attend to in protocol. We should be able to iron that out by the end of January.” 

Two noninfectious vaccines are being tested — one developed by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and the other by NewLink Genetics Corp. The rights to the vaccine were later purchased by Merck & Co. Inc. A total of 27,000 people are expected to participate in the trial, which will take about a year to complete. 

The CDC is expected to start a clinical trial in Sierra Leone shortly after the NIH trials begin in Liberia. The CDC, however, is still trying to determine which vaccine it plans to use. Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said 6,000 people are expected to participate initially.

The trials will target front line healthcare workers who are most at risk of contracting the disease. 

In addition to the clinical trials of the vaccines in Liberia, the NIH will be testing the therapeutic drug ZMapp, which is made with active materials from tobacco plants.

Now, the only way to treat Ebola is through fluid and electrolyte replacement, Fauci said. About 50 to 150 treatment courses will be needed for the trial. There are three doses per treatment course, and Fauci said the NIH has enough of the drug to get it through the first two phases of the trial.