One year after an Ebola breakout triggered an epidemic in West Africa, the World Health Organization says that two Ebola vaccines appear to be safe. Tests are now set to begin in healthy volunteers.
Referring to the two vaccines–one made by GlaxoSmithKline and the other licensed by Merck and NewLink–the WHO claims they have “an acceptable safety profile.”
Trials of NewLink and Merck’s vaccine were temporarily halted last month, due to some early participants’ reports of of joint pain. The WHO says that the side effects weren’t serious enough to delay the development of the vaccine any further, however. The other vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, is currently thought to be side effect-free.
The manufacturers will now begin mass-producing the vaccines, while also conducting six months of trials. Should all go well, millions of doses should be available later in 2015.
An Ebola vaccine isn’t a medical breakthrough so much as a market opportunity. In October, the New York Times reported that an Ebola vaccine sat untested on a shelf for 10 years. For most of that time, Ebola was a rare disease that almost exclusively caused small outbreaks in poor countries–a situation that doesn’t typically inspire large investments from global pharmaceutical companies. But Ebola is now perceived as a far greater threat: It is believed to have infected more than 20,000 people, and killed around 8,000, mostly in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
The private-public vaccine alliance, GAVI, has pledged to spend $300 million on WHO-recommended Ebola vaccines. That is expected to translate into 12 million doses. Individuals who have donated money to help curb the spread of Ebola include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, and Bill Gates. Google, meanwhile, has set up its public giving campaign to fight Ebola–in which it donates two dollars for every dollar donated by the public.
[via Associated Press]