GlaxoSmithKline is calling for caution regarding an early-stage vaccine for Ebola that it is developing with the US National Institutes of Health.

The company has been commenting on reports at the weekend that a vaccine against the virus, which has already killed nearly 1,000 people, could be available by 2015. Scientists at the World Health Organisation have been quoted in the media as saying that emergency procedures can be put in place to have a vaccine by next year, although GSK’s offering, acquired through its purchase of Switzerland’s Okairos in May last year, has yet to go into human trials.

Certain reports suggest that Phase I trials could begin as early as this autumn but GSK limits itself to saying that along with the NIH’s Vaccine Research Center, “we are now discussing with regulators advancing it to a Phase I clinical trial programme later this year”. The drugs major stresses that development for a new vaccine “is a long, complex process, often lasting ten or more years. It is difficult to accelerate this process because of the many important steps that a candidate vaccine must go through to ensure that it is safe and effective”.

At the start of the outbreak in April, GSK donated £25,000 through AmeriCares to the Ganta United Methodist Hospital in Liberia, on the border of Guinea, enabling the immediate purchase of emergency medical supplies to control the spread of infection. It has also donated antibiotics and a further £50,000 to Save the Children to support disease education and prevention efforts in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

GSK added that “we continue to work closely with partners on the ground and will provide further assistance as needed”.

Investigator jailed in China

Meantime, Peter Humphrey, the British private investigator hired by GSK to investigate a smear campaign in China, has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for “illegally obtaining private information”.

The court in Shanghai also fined Mr Humphrey some £19,000 and he will be deported at the end of his sentence. The court also sentenced his American wife Yu Yingzeng to two years, fining her £14,500.

Mr Humphrey was hired in April 2013 to investigate Vivian Shi, formerly GSK’s head of government affairs in China, who was suspected of sending e-mails sent to senior executives in London and a secretly filmed sex tape involving GSK China chief Mark Reilly. Chinese authorities have not claimed that the sentence is linked to his dealings with the company.