The London-based Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, and UK Department for International Development have announced a $4.6 million (£2.8 million) grant to accelerate human trials of a potential Ebola vaccine that is being co-developed by the National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline.
The grant will enable a team led by Adrian Hill at the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute to initiate safety tests of the vaccine alongside similar trials in the U.S. by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Phase I trials, in which the vaccine will be given to healthy volunteers in the UK, will begin as early as mid-September, pending ethical and regulatory approvals. If the volunteers show a good response with no adverse reactions, the trial will be extended to volunteers at MRC's Gambia Unit, with a second study led by Myron M. Levine, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Samba Sow of the CVD's field site in Bamako, Mali, to follow.
The funding also will enable GSK to begin manufacturing up to ten thousand doses of the vaccine so that if the trials prove to be successful, the vaccine can be made available immediately to high-risk communities through the World Health Organization.
The vaccine in question uses a single Ebola virus protein to generate an immune response. As the vaccine does not contain infectious virus material, it cannot cause a person who is vaccinated to become infected with Ebola. To accelerate the trials, NIH has agreed to provide the vaccine for safety studies led by the Oxford team, which will run in parallel to NIH's own trials.
"This is an extraordinary effort of multiple groups working together to bring a promising early-stage candidate Ebola vaccine to field tests in West Africa in record time," said Levine. "On short notice, the project partners have contributed enormous energy, time, and resources to respond to the Ebola disease calamity. If the vaccine trials begin according to schedule, a new paradigm will have been established whereby multiple agencies mobilize to address a public health threat by accelerating the preliminary evaluation of a promising potential public health tool."