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Ebola: Are Treatments, Vaccines on the Horizon?

By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

Editor's note: This article was updated Oct. 8, 2014, to include treatment information for Ebola patients Thomas Eric Duncan and Ashoka Mukpo.

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 two drugs 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.

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Ebola: Are Treatments, Vaccines on the Horizon?


“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. Testing is also expected to begin in a few African countries.

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.

NewLink Genetics vaccine: One month ago, the FDA gave NewLink permission to begin the first clinical trials to test the company’s Ebola vaccine, which was developed by Canada’s Public Health Agency. The vaccine uses a weakened animal virus to deliver Ebola proteins to the person, triggering an immune response. NewLink spokesman Brian Wiley told WebMD Oct. 2 that the first trial will be done in healthy volunteers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, and is expected to begin this month.

“Other trials will open soon in at least four other locations around the globe,” Wiley said.

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