An international consortium is fast-tracking an Ebola vaccine under development by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline, with human trials set to begin in the UK as early as September.
The move follows a declaration by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a public health emergency of international concern. The UN's health agency reported 844 deaths from the disease as of 20 August.
A £2.8 million grant from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) will allow the vaccine to be tested on 60 healthy people at Oxford University once regulatory and ethical approvals are granted.
If the volunteers show a positive response with no adverse side effects, the trials will be extended to Mali and The Gambia. Similar trials of the vaccine are taking place in the US
The vaccine works by attacking the Zaire species of Ebola, which is responsible for the current outbreak. It uses a single protein from the Ebola virus to set off an immune response. It is considered to be safe because it does not contain any infectious viral material, and so cannot cause a person who is vaccinated to become infected with Ebola.
Professor Adrian Hill, who will be leading the study at Oxford, said: “The tragic events unfolding in Africa demand an urgent response. In recent years, similar investigational vaccines have safely immunised infants and adults against a range of diseases including malaria, HIV and Hepatitis C. We, and all our partners on this project, are optimistic that this candidate vaccine may prove useful against Ebola.”
There is currently no confirmed treatment for the virus, but a number of companies are trying to develop a cure. Find out more about the treatments being developed here.