Research funded by the Wellcome Trust, in partnership with governments, funding agencies, pharmaceutical companies and aid organisations, is finding new approaches to treating, preventing and containing the disease during the current epidemic in West Africa. It is hoped this research will also inform the way in which future epidemics of Ebola and other infectious diseases are handled.
Around a dozen individual grants have been awarded so far across the breadth of science, from developing and testing new treatments and vaccines, to monitoring and predicting the spread of the disease, and considering the social and behavioural challenges associated with an epidemic of this scale.
Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: "The magnitude of the Ebola crisis in West Africa is unparalleled and has evoked a response from the global community the like of which we’ve never seen before. Our emergency funding package is helping to tackle the outbreak on multiple fronts, with evaluations of public health measures, new drugs and vaccines taking place in parallel with wider societal research to gain a deeper understanding of how best to engage with the affected communities.
"We’re extremely proud to have supported such a broad package of research, which we hope will make an important contribution towards bringing the present outbreak to an end. The outcomes will also be invaluable for shaping our response to future outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases. None of this would have been possible without co-operation between many countries in West Africa, WHO, UK and international governments, academia, funding agencies, pharma firms, NGOs and of course the dedicated scientists, doctors and volunteers working in West Africa."
Summary of projects funded
Evaluation of experimental vaccines and therapies:
- Phase I trials of an experimental vaccine called chimp adenovirus type 3 (ChAd3), co-developed by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline are being funded by a £2.8 million grant from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Department for International Development. The first results from this trial, led by Professor Adrian Hill, of Oxford University, are published today (28 Jan) in the New England Journal of Medicine.
- Trials of a second candidate vaccine, rVSV-EBOV, which uses an attenuated or weakened version of live vesicular stomatitis virus. A £3.1 million grant will allow several global partners, overseen by the World Health Organization (WHO), to gather essential safety data for this vaccine through parallel trials being carried out on healthy volunteers in Europe, Gabon and Kenya. The data analysis from this work is expected to be completed at the end of January 2015.
- A £3.2 million platform for evaluating experimental Ebola therapies, led by Professor Peter Horby of Oxford University, will enable multiple partners around the world to quickly establish clinical trials at existing Ebola treatment centres, where they will evaluate existing medicines that could be repurposed to treat Ebola. The first clinical trial was set up in Liberia at the start of January to assess the anti-viral Brincidofovir. Other therapeutics are currently under consideration.
- A drug discovery partnership to produce an antibody-based medication to fight Ebola, led by Cambridge-based biopharmaceutical company Kymab, in partnership with academic groups from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the University of Westminster and Public Health England (PHE), aims to rapidly discover and develop therapeutic antibodies against different strains of the Ebola virus.
- Public Health England (PHE) scientists are evaluating up to 20 potential Ebola treatment options at their facility in Porton Down to determine the most viable candidates for further development.
Rapid-response funding for humanitarian research
Six projects have been funded through the existing Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises programme (R2HC) – a £6.5 million initiative funded jointly by the Wellcome Trust and DFID, and administered by Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA). Projects funded to date include a 15-minute diagnostic test to detect Ebola in saliva; a modelling tool to help predict the spread of cases in West Africa; and a behaviour change project that seeks to ensure safety procedures and training for health workers are effective as possible to reduce the risk of infection while working on the front line.
As well as funding emergency Ebola research, the Trust is making a further long-term commitment to African health through a £40 million programme of support for excellence in African research. Over five years, the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science Africa (DELTAS Africa) programme will support the continent to develop a world-class medical research base.
DELTAS will provide extended support for programmes that equip sub-Saharan African researchers to conduct world-leading research that addresses the continent’s health priorities, including emerging and endemic infections, persistent threats such as HIV, TB and malaria, and the growing challenge of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and mental health.
1The phase I data from the Oxford-led trial of the ChAd3 vaccine is published at 10pm today (28 January) in a paper entitled: ‘Safety and immunogenicity of a monovalent chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine candidate targeted at Ebola outbreak control in West Africa’, by T Rampling et al. NEJM.
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