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Ebola vaccine human trial promising, researchers say

© AFP/Zoom Doso.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-11-27

A Phase-1 human trial is showing promise for an Ebola vaccine, researchers said Thursday, with all participants developing antibodies to fight the virus. The news comes as French President François Hollande is set to visit Ebola-hit Guinea on Friday.

It will be months before the vaccine can be used in the field, however, as the worst-ever outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever continues to sweep across West Africa, killing almost 5,700 people.

In the first phase of testing, all 20 healthy adults injected with a higher or lower dose of the vaccine developed antibodies needed to fight Ebola, said the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which conducted the study.

"Based on these positive results from the first human trial of this candidate vaccine, we are continuing our accelerated plan for larger trials to determine if the vaccine is efficacious in preventing Ebola infection," said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is developing the vaccine alongside GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Results were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. 

Antibodies within four weeks

The volunteers were injected starting in September, and each showed a positive result for Ebola antibodies in blood tests within four weeks. The 10 volunteers in the higher-dose group developed higher antibody levels, the NIH said.

In addition, two of the lower-dose group and seven of the higher-dose group developed a kind of immune cell called CD8 T cells, which are an important part of the body's response against disease.

"We know from previous studies in non-human primates that CD8 T cells played a crucial role in protecting animals" who got the vaccine and then were exposed to Ebola, said researcher Julie Ledgerwood, the trial's principal investigator.

None of the volunteers experienced serious side effects within the study period, though two had a brief, mild fever within 24 hours after the injection.

The version tested at NIH contains material from two species of Ebola – the Zaire species, responsible for the outbreak in West Africa, and another called Sudan Ebola.

There is no licensed treatment or vaccine against the Ebola virus, which is transmitted through bodily fluids and has been fatal in an estimated 70 percent of cases in the current outbreak.

The NIAID is "in active discussions with Liberian officials and other partners about next-stage vaccine testing in West Africa" for efficacy and safety, the NIH said, but no announcement on larger-scale trials was expected before early next year.

The White House congratulated the vaccine researchers.

"We congratulate Drs Francis Collins and Tony Fauci and their teams at the National Institutes of Health on the first published results from Phase 1 clinical trials of a promising Ebola vaccine candidate," a White House statement said, adding that President Barack Obama would visit the NIH next week.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that the global death toll from the Ebola virus had increased to 5,689 out of a total of 15,935 cases of infection, almost entirely in western Africa.

The first case discovered in the current outbreak was in Guinea in December 2013.

Hollande heads to Ebola-hit region

French President François Hollande begins a visit to Guinea on Friday, making him the first Western leader to travel to a country hit hard by the deadly Ebola virus.

Guinea has already lost 1,200 people to the disease.

The visit, the first by a French president since 1999, is a bid to deliver "a message of solidarity" to Guinea as it battles the worst outbreak of Ebola since the virus was discovered in 1976.

France has pledged €100 million ($125 million) as a contribution in the fight against Ebola, focusing its efforts on Guinea.

The money is due to help with financing several care centres in Guinea as well as funding 200 beds, some of which are reserved for health workers caring for the sick.

France has also pledged to set up two training centres for health workers, one in France and one in Guinea. In addition, French biotechnology companies will set up rapid diagnostic tests in Africa.

Hollande is due to visit healthcare facilities, participate in a round-table discussion on Ebola as well as hold talks with his Guinean counterpart, Alpha Condé.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-11-27

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