There has finally been a breakthrough in the search for a vaccine for the Ebola virus. Merck & Co has bought commercial rights to NewLink Genetics Corp’s experimental vaccine or $50 million. NewLink is a small biotechnology company based in Ames, Iowa. The company will also receive royalties from Merck.
The vaccine was originally developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the organization will still retain non-commercial rights to it. Merck is the No. 2 US drug maker and one of the world’s biggest players in the vaccine segment. With this purchase, Merck will take over the development of the vaccine and will also hold all rights to any follow-on products.
The Ebola virus has killed more than 5400 people this year and is considered to be the worst Ebola outbreak on record. The most affected regions have been Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. According to health experts, it will be very difficult to bring the epidemic under control without the use of a vaccine.
The NewLink vaccine is being tested in early-stage trials by the Walter Reed Army Institute and the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The trials are being conducted with volunteers and the primary goal is to determine whether the vaccine is safe and is able to provoke a protective immune response.
The initial human safety tests of the vaccine, known as VSV-ZEBOV are being conducted at the University of Geneva. 34 volunteers have been vaccinated with this shot since November 10. So far no serious side effects have been observed. A few experienced mild fever.
“After his or her injection, each volunteer was kept under observation for 1.5 hours at the clinical trials unit,” scientists at the Swiss hospital said in a statement. “To date, no major side effects have been observed after the injections, which triggered the expected inflammatory responses. They (the inflammatory responses) have been weak to moderate, with limited cases of mild fever,” it added.
Another potential vaccine from GSK is also being tested and has not caused any serious side effects. The GKS vaccine has produced an immune response in 20 volunteers in early stage trials. Another trial for a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is scheduled to begin in January.