Ebola vaccine trials set to begin in Rockville

Another trial of an Ebola vaccine candidate will begin this month in Maryland.

Another Ebola vaccine trial is set to begin in Maryland by the end of the month, as a Rockville company conducts research on behalf of Johnson & Johnson.

Optimal Research LLC said Tuesday it was recruiting volunteers for a clinical trial and planned to make its first vaccinations within the next couple of weeks. The experiment will study the safety and tolerability of what is known as a prime-boost vaccine regimen, in which a first dose primes the immune system and a second strengthens immunity for a longer term.

The trial follows others taking place at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring.

While other clinical trials are further along, Johnson & Johnson officials have said they plan to begin large-scale trials by April, pending results of studies in the United Kingdom, in Rockville, and eventually in Africa.

The Rockville study is to include 92 healthy adult volunteers, who will receive varying dosages and combinations of vaccine components, or a placebo. Optimal Research said it expects to continue enrolling volunteers until the end of February. Those interested can call (301) 309-8610.

Johnson & Johnson is developing the vaccine in partnership with Danish drugmaker Bavarian Nordic and said it has produced enough of a vaccine component for 400,000 doses.

A pilot trial of another vaccine candidate, developed by scientists at the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, was conducted in September at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda. Results published in November showed the vaccine was well-tolerated and appeared to be effective at preventing Ebola infection.

A second trial of that vaccine candidate began in December at the University of Maryland. Other trials were or are being conducted at the University Hospital of Lausanne in Switzerland, the University of Oxford, Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and among health workers in Mali.

Trials of a third vaccine candidate being developed by drugmaker Merck along with Iowa biotechnology company NewLink Genetics Corp. are continuing at Walter Reed in Silver Spring.

Baltimore biotechnology company Profectus BioSciences is also working on an Ebola vaccine candidate and expects to start human trials later this year.

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