CHRIS HIGGINS.Scientist takes blood out test tube in laboratory test of Ebola Zaire virus. luchschen / Shutterstock
Human trials of an Ebola vaccine are set to begin in Britain within a few weeks, with the number of potential cases projected to reach 20,000 during this outbreak.
The drug, currently awaiting ethical approval, is to be developed by GlaxoSmithKline and tested here and in the US on volunteers before being offered to high risk communities in West Africa. Alongside the newly projected impact of the contagious disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed the current death toll stands at 1,552 with more than 3,000 confirmed cases across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.
The vaccine tests are to be carried out here on 60 volunteers in an unaffected population — to rule out interactions with the virus — before being administered to 80 more volunteers in The Gambia and Mali. During the testing phase, GSK will also begin manufacturing 10,000 vials of the vaccine ready to distribute in affected areas from mid-September should the tests prove successful.
This experimental vaccine — developed by immunologists at the University of Oxford — is based on a strain of Chimpanzee cold virus, containing no active Ebola virus material, so the risk of an accidentally apocalyptic outbreak is relatively low. The drug is manufactured by splicing two Ebola Zaire genes responsible for producing surface proteins into the cold virus to prompt an immune response against the currently circulating Ebola outbreak. The surface proteins on their own are inert, simply a fingerprint to recognise the virus, meaning the body will retain defensive knowledge against the real deal if it ever tries to invade.
As such, vaccines are a form of pre-emptive innoculation for the uninfected, however with careful implementation, they can help slow down, curb or even halt the spread of an ongoing epidemic. That said, this is not a cure, and there is no known one for Ebola Zaire. This advancement won’t impact patients such as 29-year-old Will Pooley, the British volunteer nurse recovering in the Royal Free Hospital in North London after contracting Ebola while working in Sierra Leone.