Plotting the Course of Ebola Vaccines

Mar 31, 2016 – Although the Zika virus and other public health threats might seem more pressing, the world cannot ease up on efforts to maximize development of Ebola vaccines and prepare for the next outbreak, according to an expert panel.

Tremendous progress has been made in Ebola vaccine development over the past 2 years, but a report today by the Ebola Vaccine Team B says that, without renewed commitment from the global public health community, progress toward getting vaccines for Ebola approved could falter as memories of the outbreak in West Africa begin to fade.

Today's report, "Plotting the Course of Ebola Vaccines," comes a little over a year after Team B's first report, which detailed desirable qualities to seek in Ebola vaccines and included a host of recommendations for rapid response.

Since that time a vaccine produced by Merck has demonstrated impressive efficacy, and other vaccines have advanced well along the clinical trial pathway. But no vaccine has yet been approved by regulators, the experts point out in their report, and public health officials must not grow complacent until one or more vaccines are advanced enough to stockpile and respond to the next Ebola epidemic.

Team B was rapidly assembled in November 2014 by the Wellcome Trust and the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota as the Ebola outbreak heated up in West Africa.

The new report focuses on four areas: (1) vaccine safety and efficacy, (2) regulatory pathways for Ebola vaccines, (3) input from African experts, and (4) the business case for ongoing Ebola vaccine development and deployment.

It offers eight recommendations. The first is to renew the commitment to developing one or more effective vaccines, which is a theme repeated throughout the 33-page document.

Others include completing clinical trials for as many vaccines as is feasible, continuing animal studies, spelling out what is needed for regulatory approval, gearing up for what studies to conduct during the next outbreak, strengthening engagement with local public health officials in Africa, and developing financial road maps.

Guarding against complacency

Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar, MD, said, "Although a global collaborative effort has moved us from having no drugs or vaccines in the early days of the Ebola epidemic to now having a safe, effective vaccine and other promising candidates, it has taken too long, and the job is still not done."

"As Ebola infection rates come under control it's a huge concern that complacency sets in, attention moves to more immediate threats, and Ebola vaccine development is left half-finished," he added.

CIDRAP Director Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, said, "While many in the international public health community believe these efforts have solved the problem of Ebola, the path forward is not quite so simple, and many unresolved challenges and questions remain."

The expert committee is called "Team B" in recognition of the principal role played by the WHO and national governments in leading the international Ebola response.

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