Ebola Vaccine Trial begins in Kilifi

Researchers at the KEMRI| Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi, Kenya, have started the human testing of a vaccine designed to protect against Ebola. The first dose of the VSV-Ebola vaccine was administered to a health worker on Wednesday December 17, 2014 at the Kilifi County Hospital.

The Phase 1 trials are part of a wider World Health Organization (WHO) led consortium (VEBCON) funded by the Wellcome Trust.  These trials, and other trials that are taking place in the USA, Germany, Switzerland and Gabon, will test the vaccine’s safety and its ability to generate an immune system response in healthy adults. The vaccine is administered as a single dose after which the participants will be monitored closely.  Early trial results will be provided in February 2015.

The VSV- Ebola vaccine was made by combining the Vesicular Stomatitis Virus (VSV) with a portion of a single protein covering the Ebola virus. The vaccine can therefore generate an immune response to Ebola but since it only contains an isolated component part of the Ebola virus it cannot cause a vaccinated individual to become infected with Ebola, or to test positive for Ebola.

These trials are led by Dr. Patricia Njuguna, Dr Benjamin Tsofa and Prof. Phillip Bejon who are the Principal investigators.  Explaining the approval process the Director KEMRI Prof. Solomon Mpoke said “The approvals were fast-tracked by KEMRI and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board so that a 6 to 7 months approval process was conducted in only 6 weeks” He also noted that while the vaccine trials were being fast tracked the safety of the volunteers would remain key.

The trials target health workers due to their first line contact with Ebola patients.  Health workers are easier to communicate with regarding the trial due to their knowledge of how vaccines work, however seminars and information sheets have been used by the trial investigators to educate prospective participants on potential risks.

Although there are no cases of Ebola reported in Kenya, demonstrating safety and immune responses by the vaccine in the Kenyan population will facilitate use of the vaccine if necessary.  After these Phase 1 trials, the next step will be to test the vaccine further in the countries affected by the Ebola outbreak.

Further questions can be directed to Patricia Njuguna via email at PNjuguna@kemri-wellcome.org  or Cmauncho@kemri-wellcome.org