GlaxoSmithKline announces clinical trials of Ebola vaccine ‘later this year’

The Guardian – Current outbreak in Africa has killed nearly 1,000 people, prompting an international health emergency to be declared

An experimental vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus will soon go into clinical trial, according to the British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, which is developing it with scientists at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

There is no proven cure or vaccine against Ebola and the scale of the current outbreak, which has already killed nearly 1,000 people, has prompted theWorld Health Organisation to declare an international health emergency. The disease may carry on spreading for months.

GSK’s experimental vaccine has produced promising results in primates and will now enter Phase I testing in humans, if approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. A company spokesperson said on Sunday the trial should get underway “later this year”, while GSK’s partner the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said in a statement on its website it would start “as early as fall 2014”, implying a potential September launch of testing.

Even if is fast-tracked, however, and emergency procedures are put in place, the new vaccine could not be ready for widespread deployment before 2015 – even assuming it works as well as hoped. “It is right at the beginning of the development journey and still has a very long way to go,” the GSK official said, declining to be drawn on a possible timeline for launch.

The vaccine is based on a chimpanzee adenovirus, into which two Ebola genes have been inserted, which means it contains no infectious Ebola virus material. Adenoviruses are best known for causing the common cold.

Once the vaccine enters a cell and delivers its genetic payload, 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 acquired the vaccine after buying Swiss-based biotech company Okairos for €250m (£199m) last year.

The US NIAID – 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 clinical testing in late 2015 or early 2016.

The Crucell vaccine is designed to give additional protection against Marburg, another severe and highly fatal disease caused by a virus from the same family as Ebola.

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