Ebola Researchers to Test Vaccine on Humans, Sequence Virus’ Genomes

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases will test a potential Ebola virus vaccine on humans starting next week.

The vaccine, developed by the NIAID and GlaxoSmithKline, is intended to trigger an immune system response to the virus and will be evaluated on safety as well. The National Institutes of Health has also partnered with British medical associations to find volunteers in the United Kingdom, as well as Gambia and Mali.

The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has hurried the process to bring a vaccine to the public. The World Health Organization estimates there have been more than 1,400 deaths as a result of the outbreak that started in March. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also discussed bringing the study to Nigeria with Ministry of Health officials.

“Today we know the best way to prevent the spread of Ebola infection is through public health measures, including good infection control practices, isolation, contact tracing, quarantine, and provision of personal protective equipment,” NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci said in a press release. “However, a vaccine will ultimately be an important tool in the prevention effort. The launch of Phase 1 Ebola vaccine studies is the first step in a long process.”

Another study will look into a vaccine created by the Public Health Agency of Canada and NewLink Genetics Corp., and both vaccines are expected to undergo several Phase 1 clinical trials.

The outbreak has also jumpstarted research on sequencing and analyzing Ebola genomes. Researchers from the Broad Institute and Harvard University have teamed up to take on the task, in hopes of putting an end to the outbreak. Collecting 99 virus genomes from Sierra Leone patients, the researchers found more than 300 genetic distinctions that separate this epidemic from previous outbreaks.

“By making the data immediately available to the community, we hope to accelerate response efforts,” said co-senior author Pardis Sabeti, a senior associate member at the Broad Institute and an associate professor at Harvard University, in a press release. “Upon releasing our first batch of Ebola sequences in June, some of the world’s leading epidemic specialists contacted us, and many of them are now also actively working on the data. We were honored and encouraged. A spirit of international and multidisciplinary collaboration is needed to quickly shed light on the ongoing outbreak.”

The team used the deep sequencing technique to inspect each genome at an average of 2,000 times.