Scientists in Maryland have developed an Ebola vaccine that, during its first run on humans, is being heralded as an “unqualified success.” Such a vaccine could have a prodigious impact on the fight against Ebola in West Africa.
In what has become the first good news surrounding the West African Ebola outbreak in months, scientists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave 20 volunteers two different doses–one lower, one higher–of the latest iteration of what they hope will become a widely-used vaccine against Ebola. According to the BBC, the vaccine appeared to have done its work almost entirely as it is meant to function. Two individuals who received the higher dose of the vaccine developed fevers that eventually went away, but scientists recorded no other significant side effects.
“On safety and on the ability to produce an appropriate immune response we can call this trial an unqualified success, even though it was an early Phase One trial,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH to the BBC. The individuals, the study concludes, developed both specific antibodies against the strains of Ebola for which the vaccine is designed to protect. Subjects also developed a higher count of T cells, a type of white blood cell believed to participate in the destruction of the Ebola virus in the human body.
One significant concern scientists admit to worrying about with this particular vaccine is that many of these anti-bodies do not live for a long time within the bodies of the subjects. Speaking to CNN, virologist Andrew Easton of Britain’s Warwick University explained that the short lifespan of the anti-bodies developed could leave many who receive the vaccine at risk for contracting the virus anyway: “The antibodies that are generated in response to the vaccine don’t last as long as we would like–there was a clear reduction over a fairly long period of time, about 10 months.”
The same problem surfaced in studies done on animals, and scientists are still trying to understand a dose that will produce strong anti-bodies without significantly sickening the person hosting the vaccine dose.
The National Institutes of Health/GlaxoSmithKline vaccine is not the only attempt in the pharmaceutical market to race to a cure to such a deadly disease. Just as news surfaced of the results of this study, the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology announced that it had tested a new vaccine against Ebola on 40 subjects, though more than 150 people had expressed interest in receiving an experimental dose of the vaccine. The Globe and Mail reports that results for this study are expected in early 2015, as scientists must monitor the subjects for several months before announcing any conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the virus.
In addition to the vaccine attempts, Ebola patients around the world have received an experimental drug known as ZMapp from a group of American-Canadian manufacturers: Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc. and LeafBio (San Diego, CA), and Defyrus Inc. (Toronto, Canada). ZMapp has received part of the credit for saving the lives of American missionaries Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, though it has failed to save Liberian patients in advanced stages of the Ebola infection.