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GSK Ebola vaccine won’t be ready until late 2015 – experts respond

Posted in Science Alert: Experts Respond

The pharmaceuticals company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has said that its potential Ebola vaccine isn’t likely to be ready until late 2015.

Credit: Dr. Randal J. Schoepp (Flickr)

Credit: Dr. Randal J. Schoepp (Flickr)

GSK is one of several companies trying to fast-track a vaccine to prevent the spread of Ebola in West Africa, compressing trials that would normally take up to 10 years into just 12 months.

According to GSK’s press release, it has completed the first phase of the trials and is now processing the data in order to progress safely to the second phase, which will involve vaccinating thousands of healthcare workers in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

In an interview with BBC News, Dr Ripley Ballou, head of GSK’s Ebola vaccine research, said full data on its safety and efficacy would realistically not be ready until late 2015.

“At the same time we have to be able to manufacture the vaccine at doses that would be consistent with general use, and that’s going to take well into 2016 to be able to do that,” he added.

However, even if GSK’s vaccine does not work, other Ebola vaccines are being developed by researchers in Canada and Japan.

Our colleagues at the UK SMC collected the following expert commentary. Feel free to use these quotes in your reporting. If you would like to contact a New Zealand expert, please contact the SMC (04 499 5476; smc@sciencemediacentre.co.nz).

Prof David Evans, Professor of Virology, University of Warwick, comments:

“The announcement today that the recombinant adenovirus-based Ebola vaccine in development by GSK will not be ready to combat the current outbreak initially appears a major disappointment. However, the reality is that the current outbreak is unlikely to be controlled quickly and there remain very significant benefits to the rapid development, testing and deployment of new vaccines.

“GSK had originally hoped to fast-track the standard testing programme, compressing what would usually take a decade into as little as a year. Current reported cases and deaths are probably a two-fold (or greater) underestimate, and the WHO prediction is that – by Christmas – new cases could number 10,000 per week. The aid effort is lagging well behind the spread of the infection and the virus is getting increasingly well established in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. This being the case, it is likely that even with massively increased aid the virus will take very many months or probably years to control in West Africa.

“This means that a successful GSK Ebola vaccine may well be beneficial in controlling the later stages of this outbreak even if it is not available until “well into 2016”, the revised estimated date by which the vaccine could be ready for general use. Furthermore, phase II testing early next year will involve vaccination of frontline healthcare workers, protection of whom is critical for the successful control of Ebola in the community. Finally, the lessons learned by fast-tracking the trials for this vaccine will help prevent delays during future outbreaks of different strains of Ebola, or other known or new infectious diseases.”

Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, comments:

“A wide-scale roll-out was never really a proposition, but it’s potential value in phase II trial focussing on healthcare workers should not be underestimated.

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