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Ebola: Are Treatments, Vaccines on the Horizon?

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Editor's note: This story was updated on Oct. 23, 2014, with new information about the VSV-EBOV vaccine trials, another patient receiving the experimental drug brincidofovir, and two others who received blood from Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly.

Oct. 3, 2014-- As the number of Ebola cases continues to grow, people around the world are eager for a treatment or vaccine that could trump the deadly infection.

But only one of the three drugs that have been used to treat people with Ebola, TKM-Ebola, has even begun testing in humans -- although that’s on hold because of safety concerns. Of the promising vaccines on the horizon, one began getting tested for safety in healthy volunteers last month, while safety testing on the other will start soon. Meanwhile, a trial in healthy volunteers of a fourth drug, which has not yet been given to Ebola patients, found that the volunteers had few side effects, and they were okay after taking it.

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“Today we know the best way to prevent the spread of Ebola infection is through public health measures, including good infection-control practices, isolation, contact tracing, quarantine, and provision of personal protective equipment,” says Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “However, a vaccine will ultimately be an important tool in the prevention effort.”

Here is a roundup of some of the Ebola treatments and vaccines in the research pipeline:

NIAID/GSK investigational Ebola vaccine: The first safety tests of this vaccine, developed by scientists at the NIAID and GlaxoSmithKline, began last month in healthy volunteers at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, MD, and in Great Britain. GSK says it will have 15,000 doses available in December, when field testing in Liberia is expected to begin, Peter Jahrling, PhD, chief scientist at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility, said at an Ebola forum on Oct. 14 at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Two variations of the vaccine will be tested. Both use a chimp cold virus to deliver segments of the Ebola gene into the volunteers’ cells.  The cells take the segment and produce an Ebola marker on its surface. A volunteer’s immune system sees the marker and attacks. One version of the vaccine uses genetic segments from Zaire Ebola, the virus species causing the current outbreak, and Sudan Ebola. The other version uses only Zaire Ebola genetic material. The vaccines cannot cause Ebola.

VSV-EBOV vaccine: One month ago, the FDA gave NewLink Genetics Corp. permission to begin the first clinical trials to test the company’s Ebola vaccine, which was developed by Canada’s Public Health Agency. In a statement Oct. 22, the NIH said human testing was underway at its clinical center in Bethesda, MD, where adults get two doses. The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, MD, is testing the vaccine as a single dose, according to the NIH.

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