GENEVA, Switzerland – The Vaccine Alliance Gavi has signed a $5m deal to purchase an Ebola vaccine developed by pharmaceutical company Merck to fight future outbreaks. Merck is committed to ensuring that 300,000 vaccines are available from May for emergency use or clinical trials.
The deal was announced at the World Economic Forum, held at Davos in the Swiss Alps.
The Ebola vaccine is expected to get licensed by the end of 2017, which means that Gavi will be enabled to prepare a global stockpile afterwards. Merck has already conducted trials of the VSV-ZEBOV (vesicular stomatitis virus-Zaire Ebola virus vaccine), which uses a fraction of the Ebola virus with another safer virus in an attempt to train the body to fight the deadly disease.
Even though further data is being currently gathered, earlier studies in West Africa have revealed that the vaccine may give 100% protection against the virus. Gavi’s chief executive Dr. Seth Berkley said: “The suffering caused by the Ebola crisis was a wake-up call to many in the global health community”. A decade’s work was condensed into less than a year to develop the vaccine.
Gavi is an alliance of public bodies and private firms focused on saving lives through vaccination. The company said the new financing agreement with Merck will enable it to get ready to face future Ebola epidemics.
Over 11,000 people have died in the latest outbreak in West Africa. After all affected communities reported 42 days without a case, the World Health Organization declared the region free of the virus last Friday. But just hours later, the death of a 22-year-old woman in Sierra Leone was confirmed to be from Ebola. The WHO warned more flare-ups were likely to happen.
Dr. Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust medical research charity, affirmed that VSV-ZEBOV had shown outstanding results and marked a positive outcome to emerge from the epidemic. He mentioned the new confirmed case in Sierra Leone and said the outbreak was likely to have “a long tail”, but still remarked the Ebola vaccine would play a significant role in preventing further flare-ups of the epidemic, as well as helping to prevent other outbreaks in the future.
Tastings were carried out in Guinea, where 4,000 who had been in significantly close contact with a confirmed Ebola case showed full protection after 10 days of the exposure.
Merck issued an application through the WHO’s emergency use assessment and listing procedure. If approved, the WHO would authorize emergency use of the vaccine before it is licensed.