Dutch biotech Crucell has started clinical testing of a vaccine against Ebola, a severe, viral disease that causes high fever and massive internal bleeding and kills 50% to 80% of those infected.

The 48-patient dose-escalation study, which will examine single shots of the vaccine, is now underway at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)’s Vaccine Research Center in Maryland.

Ebola outbreaks occur regularly in tropical Africa, affecting both human and great ape populations, but as yet no vaccine or drug treatment has been developed to tackle the virus. Since Ebola was first recognized, approximately 2,000 cases with over 1,200 deaths have been reported.

Crucell and the NIAID forged an alliance to develop an Ebola vaccine in 2002, and this led to a $21.4 million manufacturing contract for a clinical candidate in April 2005.

In 2003, researchers from the US National Institutes of Health and the US Army found that immunising monkeys with a single dose of Crucell’s vaccine - which is made by inserting a portion of Ebola virus DNA into a harmless vector - offered 100% protection against viral challenge, even amongst those given high doses.

Quinvaxem endorsed

Meanwhile, Crucell announced today that Quinvaxem, a pentavalent vaccine co-developed with Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, has been granted 'prequalification' by the World Health Organisation (WHO), meaning that it can be made available to supranational purchasing organisations such as UNICEF and PAHO.

Quinvaxem combines antigens for protection against five important childhood diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b, one of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in children. It was approved in Korea in March.