Ripley Ballou, head of GlaxoSmithKline’s Ebola vaccine research, has told the BBC that full safety and efficacy data on its investigational treatment will not be ready until late 2015, which will come too late for this epidemic.
When the outbreak was declared in March, the drugs giant held discussions with the World Health Organisation about accelerating development of its Ebola vaccine, but Dr Ballou told Radio 4’s File on Four that both parties decided not to. "No-one anticipated we would need a vaccine," he said, “and so both internally and, I think at the WHO, we felt the best approach was to watch very closely".
However, he stated that “I think in retrospect we should have pulled that trigger earlier…it is what it is and we are working very closely with WHO”. However, Dr Ballou believes “there shouldn't be any finger-pointing around this”.
Dr Ballou said it take some time to assess all of the data and “at the same time we have to be able to manufacture the vaccine at doses that would be consistent with general use, and that's going to take well into 2016 to be able to do that. I don't think this can be seen as the primary answer to this particular outbreak". He added that if it does work, maybe “we don't have to go through this again in five years, or whenever the next epidemic is going to break out”.
By December, the World Health Organisation believes there could be 10,000 new cases a week. The disease has so far infected 9,000 people and killed about half of those, mostly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
UPDATE: In response, Medecins Sans Frontieres access campaign executive director Manica Balasegram said that to hear the company “state that an Ebola vaccine will come ‘too late’ for this outbreak is frankly disappointing”. He added that “while we recognise and appreciate the vastly accelerated development of GSK’s Ebola vaccine, efforts need to go further as we believe a vaccine could be important in curbing this outbreak as well as preventing and controlling Ebola in the future”.
Dr Balasegaram went on to say that “nobody knows how long this outbreak will last for; our patients, front-line workers and people across West Africa can’t afford to hear ‘it’s too late’. The situation on the ground is disastrous; this is a crisis. A vaccine could be the tipping point, but we need GSK to show leadership by making a bold decision now and take on some risk in driving through a process of accelerating development in parallel with the scale-up of supply”.