The what, why and how of health and development

First human trials for Ebola vaccine show it has potential

Efforts to find a vaccine for Ebola have taken a significant step forward this week after initial tests on humans showed promising results according to research published in the Lancet.

Results from the first phase 1 trials of the vaccine against the strain of Ebola that killed tens of thousands of people in western African last year shows it provoked a response from the participants immune system.

This was the first test of a vaccine carried out on the most recent strain of the virus, rather than the strain associated with an earlier outbreak in Zaire in the 1970s.

In the latest study, participants who received a higher dose of the vaccine produced higher quantities of antibodies than those who received a lower dose. A placebo was given to a control group who showed no immune response.

However scientists at the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology and the Tianjin CanSino Biotechnology, both in China, have warned that it is early days and it is not possible to say for sure if the immune response exhibited in participants would be enough to destroy the virus.

They said further testing will be required in Africa to establish whether it could protect against Ebola and they also need to investigate the possibility the vaccine may increase the risk of contracting the HIV virus, which has been suggested in previous research.

Professor Fengcai Zhu, who led the researchers, said: “On the basis of our findings, we believe that the Ebola vaccine we assessed has some potential, and a significant advantage of this type of vaccine is that stable and much easier to store or transport in tropical areas with inadequate cold-chain capacity, such as Africa. However, whether this candidate vaccine could become a final vaccine for widespread use against Ebola outbreaks is still uncertain, because of the issues of HIV-1 acquisition rates and the pre-existing immunity, especially in west Africa.

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