World health officials have announced that a Phase III trial assessing Health Canada, NewLink and Merck & Co’s experimental Ebola vaccine will kick off March 7 in Guinea.

The vaccine, VSV-EBOV, was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to NewLink Genetics, which then brought Merck on board in November last year.

The World Health Organisation, the Health Ministry of Guinea, Médecins Sans Frontières, Epicentre and The Norwegian Institute of Public Health will test VSV-EBOV for efficacy and effectiveness in preventing the killer disease. 

Vaccination will take place in areas of Basse Guinée, which has the highest number of cases in the country, and the strategy adopted will be “ring vaccination”, which involves identifying a newly diagnosed case of Ebola – the ‘index case’ – and then tracing of the patient’s contacts, who are then vaccinated. 

The dual objectives of the trial are to assess if VSV-EBOV protects the contacts who were vaccinated and if this will successfully create a buffer around the index case to prevent further spread of infection. 

GSK’s jab to be tested soon

A second vaccine - cAd3-ZEBOV, developed by GlaxoSmithKline alongside the US National Institutes for Health, will be tested in a sequential study as supply becomes available, WHO said.

Statistics show that the number of people who have died in the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is around 9,000, though many believe the actual figure is much, much higher. 

Moreover, the epidemic “remains unpredictable,” said Bertrand Draguez, Medical Director at MSF. “We don’t know when it will end, and that’s why it remains crucial for us to keep focusing our efforts on developing a vaccine capable of protecting the population in this epidemic and any future ones”.