Oxford initiates Ebola vaccine trial

The Ebola virus | Courtesy of the CDC

Oxford University is launching the first safety trial of a vaccine regimen for the Ebola virus that is in development from the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, the university said on Tuesday.

This vaccine's development has been accelerated in response to the current outbreak of the disease in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The outbreak has claimed approximately 8,000 lives, the World Health Organization said.

"The devastating Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone continues to see hundreds of new cases each week and has placed huge burden on these countries' infrastructures," Oxford Vaccine Group Study Team Leader Matthew Snape said. "While public health measures are currently still the best way to bring the outbreak under control, if we have a safe and effective vaccine it could begin to have an impact later this year. That is the goal that is seeing manufacturers, public health bodies and research regulators come together to accelerate the first clinical trials of new Ebola vaccines."

Doctors and researchers are seeking 72 volunteers that are healthy and between the ages of 18 and 50 for the study. Volunteers would make a maximum of 12 visits to Churchill Hospital, where the Oxford Vaccine Group site is located. Researchers are aiming to have all volunteers started by the end of January.

Researchers will study a vaccine regimen in which an initial dose primes the immune response by activating defense systems. A second dose is then given to enhance the body's immune response. In non-human primate models this method allowed subjects to survive against the Kikwit Zaire strain of the disease, which is related to the outbreak strain.

This vaccine does not have replicating virus specimens so it cannot infect study participants with the virus.