Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Progress of the Vaccines

Back in January, I wrote a blog post about the on-going vaccine trials that were providing hopeful signs to find a permanent preventative drug against Ebola. We can all agree that this is the most permanent way for the global community to prevent another outbreak of this virus. As Ebola recedes, and Liberia is declared free from the virus, how have those vaccine trials that we laid so much hope and financial capital in ended up? According to the WHO, not as well as we had hoped.

Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation, said in a news briefing in Geneva: "The best news is we are going to zero cases, there is absolutely no doubt about that," she said.

“Two experimental Ebola vaccines - developed by GlaxoSmithKline and jointly by Merck and NewLink Genetics - being tested on volunteers may not yield sufficient data on efficacy as case numbers fall. It is not clear whether it will be possible to have even a hint of efficacy from these two vaccines," she said, noting that they already had been proven safe.

To have efficacy we must see if people are actually protected, as the number of cases is going down it is not clear whether there will be a strong robust answer to this question at the end of epidemic," Kieny said.

This is, fortunately, not the whole story. As you may remember, Bavarian Nordic, which struck a milestone deal with Johnson & Johnson in October for the development of their Ebola vaccine, was working on a 2-dose vaccination approach for Ebola using different vaccines for the first and second doses. This approach is known as heterologous prime-boost. The two vaccine candidates are known as Ad26-EBOV and MVA-EBOV. Bavarian Nordic, and Johnson & Johnson, have received a 50 million euro loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to help it develop a vaccine against Ebola.

This latter partnership has been collecting samples of the live virus in blood, urine and other bodily fluids in order to continue the testing. Considering the uncertainty surrounding the efficacy of these drugs, it is highly unlikely that we will see human trials of these drugs until absolutely necessary. However, the continued investment by the EIB shows a determined and long-term approach to creating a useable vaccine.

The continued investment and prevalence of live virus samples will enable these companies to do what they can to make sure that we are better prepared for the unfortunate situation when Ebola arises. Let’s hope, for all of sub-Saharan Africa that Ebola doesn’t become a major issue in the future, but at least big Pharma will be in a position of knowledge, rather than chasing ghosts as they were this time around. If you would like to read the full update on all of the antivirals, you can do so from the WHO website here.

There are many lessons that can be learnt from this Ebola outbreak, and the speedy preparation of antivirals is a major one.

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