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Ebola vaccine trials excite West Africa

Jan 27, 2015

No other Ebola treatment vaccine has created as much excitement among people in the hardest-hit countries, like the two pending trial vaccines to begin in Liberia at the beginning of next month, February.

A similar ray of hope first spread across the Ebola epicentres in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone last year at the height of the deadly epidemic with the advent of the Zmap trial drug. But that hope quickly dissipated due to the inadequate doses of treatment, sparking an anti-American sentiment in the Ebola epicentres that was further complicated by the fact that most of the beneficiaries of the treatment were Americans.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s criticism of the west over slow response also added to the controversy. Subsequently, the widespread notion and grudge among people in the Ebola hit countries that even a vaccine against the killer malaria disease was possible only when drug manufacturers in the United States put on a human face.

Arguably, such sentiments have spurred angry youths particularly in Guinea, to reject the western and scientific attributes of the origins of the Ebola virus. Hence, in Forecariah, an Ebola epicentre and in another locality in the northeast of Guinea, angry youths attacked and killed Ebola treatment agents and even policemen after they were accused of being hired guns to advertently propagate the disease.

Another ray of hope for an Ebola cure shone towards the end of last year with the influx of Cuban, Chinese and Japanese medical research experts into the Ebola epicentres in West Africa.

Maiden trial

By December, Guinea was bracing for a maiden trial of the Ebola anti-retroviral drug called faviripavir (Avigan) that had been produced by Japanese scientists.

The results of the trial are expected by the end of the first quarter of 2015. Faviripavir was alleged to have been licensed for sale in Japan to cure a certain flu and was being produced massively. On January 9, 2015 the World Health Organisation announced that another Ebola vaccine testing was just a matter of weeks away in the three countries worst affected by the killer virus.

The development followed a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva where participants said they planned to get the new drugs into the field "as quickly as possible". In an apparent response, WHO's Professor Helen Rees said: " We haven't yet got an effective vaccine at the moment … but what we are seeing is very promising and that is why we want to get them into the field as quickly as possible…"

Apparently, the trial vaccines Professor Rees was alluding to are those being transferred to Liberia for trial by the end of January 2015 and testing could start in Sierra Leone and Guinea in early February. It could take up to six months to see if the vaccines are working after testing on thousands of volunteers, the health agency said.

Pre-tests have already been carried out in animals and in several human volunteers in many countries by the United States National Institute of Health and the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). One of the two test vaccines is said to have been produced by the biotech company NewLink Genetics and the pharmaceutical company Merck.

The announcement of these trial drugs to Liberia has again sparked a wave of mixed reactions but underscored by optimism. Even though the trials are coming at at time when the hallucinating Ebola epidemic seems to be subsiding, there is reason to believe that this could be the final hour after nearly 9,000 deaths in one year.


Source: Daily Nation (Kenya)

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