Johnson & Johnson will begin testing its Ebola vaccine in January

Emma Haslett
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The new drug could be tested on humans as early as January, Johnson & Johnson said (Source: Getty)

US drug giant Johnson & Johnson will begin human trials of its Ebola vaccine in January, it said today.

The company said it will spend $200m (£124m) on speeding up its research programme, and will begin testing the drug on subjects in America, Africa and Europe early next year.

Why has Ebola spread so rapidly in Liberia? See our outbreak map here

The vaccine combines a formula from one of its own subsidiaries, Janssen, with one from Danish pharmaceutical firm Bavarian Nordic. It targets the Zaire strain of the disease, currently affecting countries in West Africa, and has "shown promising results in preclinical studies", said the company.

It plans to manufacture one million doses of the vaccine over the next year, with 250,000 expected to be released for "broad application" for clinical trials by May.

Ebola has spread rapidly through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone since it broke out in December last year, with the latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) showing 4,500 people have died from the virus.

So far, the only drug used widely is in the fight against the disease ZMapp, a drug funded by various US government agencies. Although it has been used successfully in several high-profile cases, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, its manufacturer, said it can't conclusively say whether it is effective because available data in humans is "extremely limited".

Yesterday the WHO said a serum containing antibodies produced by survivors of the disease could be used to treat patients in Liberia "within weeks".

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