UM center launches human trials of Ebola vaccine in Mali

Forty health care workers in Mali are receiving a vaccine that could guard against the Ebola virus as a University of Maryland School of Medicine center launches the first human trials of the experimental vaccine.

One person received the vaccine Wednesday, two more were expected to receive it Thursday and dozens more are scheduled to follow in the coming weeks. The inoculation was developed at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda using an inert virus that is coated in an Ebola protein, so the body builds immunity to the deadly virus.

The vaccine, like many others in development, has shown promise but had not advanced to human testing because there was little upside for investors until the recent Ebola outbreak began. But with fears of the virus spreading in the United States or other parts of the world, interest in experimental vaccines and treatments is ramping up.

Other clinical trials of the vaccine were scheduled to take place in the United Kingdom and Gambia.

"This research will give us crucial information about whether the vaccine is safe, well tolerated and capable of stimulating adequate immune responses in the highest-priority target population, health care workers in West Africa," Dr. Myron Levine, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the medical school, said in a statement. "If it works, in the foreseeable future it could help alter the dynamic of this epidemic by interrupting transmission to health care and other exposed front-line workers."

The center is leading the testing in Bamako, Mali, with Dr. Samba Sow, director general of the Center for Vaccine Development–Mali, a joint initiative between the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Ministry of Health of Mali.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, developed the vaccine candidate with Okairos, a Swiss-Italian biotech company acquired last year by GlaxoSmithKline. It uses a chimpanzee adenovirus — a type of virus that includes the common cold — that does not cause illness in humans to carry proteins that mark the Ebola virus.

The institute's Vaccine Research Center "is also in discussions with governmental and non-governmental partners regarding options for advancing this candidate beyond Phase I clinical evaluation," according to its website.

Mali shares a border with Guinea in West Africa. More than 3,800 people have died out of more than 8,000 cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, with smaller numbers of cases in Nigeria and Senegal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Liberian man who became sick with Ebola hemorrhagic fever after traveling to Dallas last week died of the illness Wednesday.

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