On Ebola and Pharma: The Case of Vaccine VSV-EBOV ⎜IPEye

Ebola Virus

Ebola, “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times”, is devastating West Africa [primarily Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia], and with a small handful of documented cases of the virus being transmitted outside Africa [Spain, United States], mass panic and fear is arising beyond the continent.

‘The international response was slow’

The international community’s slow response to this global health emergency has been attributed as a reason, amongst several, for the rapid geographic spread of the virus. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, speaking from Monrovia to a World Bank Ebola conference in Washington, said that the international response was slow and pleaded for more medical personnel.

Several nations have responded to the call to arms, with Cuba sending 165 of a batch of 461 Cuban medical workers to Sierra Leone. Further, U.S. President Barack Obama recently sent the first of nearly 4,000 troops to West Africa. Canada has also been contributing to these efforts, formulating the experimental Ebola vaccine, VSV-EBOV (Vesicular Stomatitis Virus – Ebola Virus).

VSV-EBOV has Proven Effective on Primates Tested

Human clinical trials of experimental Canadian Ebola vaccine, VSV-EBOV, commenced on October 12, 2014 in Maryland, United States. Studies reveal that the vaccine works in primates, both to prevent infection when given prior to exposure and to increase chances of survival when given quickly after exposure. Officials say that if successful, the vaccine could be shipped to affected areas of West Africa within a few months.

Details About VSV-EBOV Vaccine and the Clinical Trials

  • Health Minister Rona Ambrose said that 20 vials of the vaccine will be tested on 40 healthy volunteers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland.
  • The vaccine does not contain any live Ebola virus. It is made up of dead parts of the virus, combined with another virus typically found in animals.
  • The trial is designed to determine if VSV-EBOV is safe for human use. It is also designed to determine the right dosage for humans and to look out for any side effects.
  • Results from the trial could be available by December.
  • If those results show that the vaccine is successful, the next step would be to test it in a larger group, including people who have had direct contact with Ebola patients in West Africa.
Image of medical personnel burying deceased ebola patient
                          Image Courtesy: European Commission DG ECHO

‘It’s a farce; these doses are lying around there while people are dying in Africa’

And now cue the intellectual property dispute? There was in a fact a delay in the commencement of safety trials for the candidate vaccine, VSV-EBOV. An article published in Science Insider and authored by Berlin-based journalist Kai Kupferschmidt, cited scientists who voiced concern that NewLink Genetics, the U.S. firm that holds the licence for the vaccine (NB: The Canadian government owns the intellectual property associated with the vaccine), was “worried about losing control over the development of the vaccine.” Virologist Heinz Feldmann, who helped develop the vaccine while at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) in Winnipeg, said the following in reference to the delay – “It’s a farce; these doses are lying around there while people are dying in Africa.” However, Brian Wiley, NewLink’s vice-president of business development, blamed the delay on administrative processes.

Nevertheless, the vaccine has in fact made its way to the U.S. and human trials have commenced.  Irrespective of the disagreement on this point, there is a resounding understanding that action needs to be taken to curb the Ebola outbreak.

To find out more about what we can do to aid in the efforts to stop the Ebola outbreak, see the links below:

Doctors Without Borders – http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/our-work/medical-issues/ebola
Center for Disease Control – http://www.cdcfoundation.org/ebola-outbreak
American Red Cross – http://www.redcross.org/ebolaoutbreak
International Medical Corps – https://internationalmedicalcorps.org/2014_08_04_ebola-hub-page#.VD3FzedGKox
Save the Children – https://secure.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.9198647/k.34C/Donate_to_the_Ebola_Childrens_Relief_Fund/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp
Global Giving Relief Fund – http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/ebola-epidemic-relief-fund/
ILab Liberia – http://ilabliberia.org/2014/09/26/ilab-help-to-fight-ebola/

Featured Image Courtesy: NIAID

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About: Tracy Ayodele

Tracy Ayodele is a Canadian lawyer, called to the Bar of Ontario, and a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School. She has a keen interest in IP policy, social innovation and the intersection of technology, development and start-up culture in emerging economies. She is a spirited legal researcher and writer, and co-authored “Hot-tubbing in Canadian Patent Litigation: A Preliminary Assessment” published in the Intellectual Property Journal.

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