Potential Ebola vaccine remained untested on humans
In the middle of 2005, Canadian and American researchers that tested Ebola vaccine and found a solution that they say was 100 percent effective on monkeys. Published in Nature Medicine, the results then were so exciting that researchers planned to begin human trials by 2007, and have a product ready for market three years after that.
But the immense costs of clinical trials and production, paired with a supply that did not meet the demand for an Ebola vaccine at the time halted any further development. The Ebola virus then only affected a few hundred people worldwide, but has now spread to becoming fatal for more than 5,000 West Africans. It is only now with the rising threat of Ebola to several countries, that basic clinical trials have begun, and governments are breaking the bank to find a cure.
Today, The World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to explain the details of two large-scale patient studies, planned to take place in West Africa soon.
The main reason an Ebola vaccine wasn’t tested on humans sooner was economics. Thomas W. Geisbert, a key developer for the original vaccine, says, “There’s never been a big market for Ebola vaccines.” He told the New York Times, “so big pharma, who are they going to sell it to?” Director of vaccine research at Vanderbilt University, Dr. James E. Crowe also notes that researchers in 2005 may have experienced what he calls a “biotech valley of death,” where drug companies refuse to fund remarkable science. Dr. Crowe adds, “People invest in order to get money back.”
The 2005 vaccine, made by transplanting a gene from a vesicular stomatitis virus (V.S.V.), with an Ebola virus gene, was originally patented by the Canadian government and licensed in Iowa as VSV-EBOV in 2010. Currently, safety tests have begun for both VSV-EBOV and another vaccine which uses a cold virus that affects chimpanzees. Several other vaccines are expected to begin trials next year.
Safety officials are closely monitoring the side effects of V.S.V. vaccines, which contain live viruses. Once treatments pass the safety tests, officials will have to make the choice of whether to complete trials by traditional means, or find a more rapid method.