Researchers begin Ebola vaccine trials in Kenya

NAIROBI, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) — Researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) have started the human testing of a vaccine designed to protect against Ebola virus, the country’s research institution said on Thursday.

A statement from KEMRI said its experts at Wellcome Trust Research Program in the coastal town of Kilifi administered the first dose of the VSV-Ebola vaccine to a health worker on Wednesday at the local hospital.

KEMRI Director Professor Solomon Mpoke said the Phase 1 trials are part of a wider World Health Organization (WHO)-led consortium (VEBCON) funded by the Wellcome Trust.

“The approvals were fast-tracked by KEMRI and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board so that a 6 to 7 months approval process was conducted in only 6 weeks,” Mpoke said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

He said the trials, which hope to quickly find an effective treatment against the disease, target health workers due to their first line contact with Ebola patients.

Mpoke added that health workers are easier to sensitize due to their knowledge of how vaccines work, however further sensitization by the trial investigators has been carried out for the participants to educate them on any potential risks.

He also noted that while the vaccine trials were being fast tracked the safety of the volunteers would remain key.

These trials, and other trials that are taking place in the U.S. , Germany, Switzerland and Gabon, will test the vaccine’s safety and its ability to generate an immune system response in healthy adults, he said.

Mpoke said the vaccine is administered as a single dose after which the participants will be monitored closely. Early trial results will be provided in February 2015.

He said the VSV-Ebola vaccine was made by combining the Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV) with a portion of a single protein covering the Ebola virus.

“The vaccine can therefore generate an immune response to Ebola but since it only contains an isolated component part of the Ebola virus it cannot cause a vaccinated individual to become infected with Ebola, or to test positive for Ebola,” he said.

Although there are no cases of Ebola reported in Kenya, demonstrating safety and immune responses by the vaccine in the Kenyan population will facilitate use of the vaccine if necessary.

“After these Phase 1 trials, the next step will be to test the vaccine further in the countries affected by the Ebola outbreak,” Mpoke said.

The trials come as death toll in the Ebola epidemic has risen to 6,915 out of 18,603 cases as of Dec. 14, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

There are signs that the increase in incidence in Sierra Leone has slowed, although 327 new cases were confirmed there in the past week, including 125 in the capital Freetown, the WHO said in its latest update.