A successful trial of a vaccine against ebola is being seen as pivotal in the fight against infectious diseases.Analysis of the drug found that it was 100% effective when used in certain conditions in Guinea.
An outbreak of the disease caused the deaths of more than 11,000 people in the sub-Saharan countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The VSV-EBOV (Merck, Sharp & Dohme) vaccine was tested on communities where ebola had broken out to see if it helped to prevent the disease spreading.
Around 4,000 people who were close to victims – called a “ring” due to the the way they often surrounded people affected – were given the treatment to see if it offered protection.
Scientific research published in the Lancet and released by the World Health Organisation found that VSV-EBOV had proved “highly effective”.
It was also tested on a small number of frontline workers with the charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) who have been involved in treating those with the illness.
Its success means that WHO is planning to roll it out to other frontline workers and it is due to be trialled on children, having been deemed safe for adults.
Those involved in funding the trial called it a “remarkable” result and said the co-operation between organisations and countries that allowed it to come about augured well for future outbreaks of dangerous viruses.
Jeremy Farrar, director of the UK-based Wellcome Trust, one of the funders of the trial, said: “This partnership also shows that such critical work is possible in the midst of a terrible epidemic.
“It should change how the world responds to such emerging infectious disease threats.”
Assistant director-general Marie-Paule Kieny, who leads the Ebola Research and Development effort at WHO, added: “This record-breaking work marks a turning point in the history of health R&D (research and development).
“We now know that the urgency of saving lives can accelerate R&D.
“We will harness this positive experience to develop a global R&D preparedness framework so that if another major disease outbreak ever happens again, for any disease, the world can act quickly and efficiently to develop and use medical tools and prevent a large-scale tragedy.”
Bertrand Draguez, medical director at Médecins sans Frontières, said: “With such high efficacy, all affected countries should immediately start and multiply ring vaccinations to break chains of transmission and vaccinate all frontline workers to protect them.”
The vaccine is different from the two British drugs currently being developed by Oxford Vaccine Group/Johnson & Johnson and the University of Oxford/GlaxoSmithKline.