Feature Vaccines

Ebola: a game changer for vaccines, or a scare that will soon be forgotten?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1938 (Published 06 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1938
  1. Sophie Arie
  1. sarie{at}bmj.com

Scientists say that it is only a matter of time before another neglected infectious disease causes a global public health emergency. So will the world now make these diseases a priority? Sophie Arie reports

In March 2014 the first case of a new outbreak of Ebola virus disease was confirmed in Guinea. After months of growing global panic that the virus was out of control and might rapidly spread worldwide, the World Health Organization agreed for the first time that, as part of the global response, it would support clinical trials of experimental Ebola drugs on the affected population.

Trials are rushed through at record speed

Treatments and vaccines developed in laboratories more than a decade earlier that had been mothballed for lack of commercial interest were put through human safety trials and small scale efficacy trials at record speed. Ethical issues were carefully tackled and trial protocols produced—again, at record speed—so that today, a year after that first case was reported, several large scale phase III clinical trials of vaccines and treatments for Ebola are under way in west Africa. A process that normally can take as long as 10 years was compressed into a year.

Yet, for more than 10 000 people who have died, this is still way too slow—and, because very few new Ebola cases are now occurring, it may also be too late to gather solid enough data to gain market approval for any of the experimental drugs in the pipeline.

So, how can the global community move even more quickly to develop drugs for potentially devastating infectious disease outbreaks in the future? Scientists are desperate to capitalise on progress made during the Ebola outbreak by focusing on developing drugs for more than 10 other neglected infectious diseases (see box 1) that, like Ebola, they say, have the potential to spread far further …

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