NIH Visit to Highlight Progress With GSK on Ebola Vaccine

President Obama is scheduled to visit NIH today to highlight recent results on a potential Ebola vaccine, developed with GlaxoSmithKline. He is expected to call on Congress to pass a $6.2 billion package to combat the current crisis and prevent future outbreaks.

With early results on a vaccine to prevent Ebola showing promise, President Obama was scheduled to visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, today to praise scientists’ work and call on Congress to pass a $6.2 billion package to combat the current outbreak in West Africa—and invest in a public health infrastructure to prevent a future crisis.

Researchers from NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline last week jointly published results from a Phase 1 study on 20 adults, which found the experimental vaccine cAd3-EBO produced dose-dependent immune responses with no adverse effects beyond a brief fever. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Obama was scheduled to meet with NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, and NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, although neither is named on the NEJM paper. As reported earlier this year in Evidence-Based Immunology and Infectious Disease, trials on this potential vaccine began in early September, and work continues on other potential treatments and diagnostic tools.

While global leaders in the current fight against Ebola are excited about the prospect of an Ebola vaccine, they have warned that it will not solve the current crisis, nor will a vaccine by itself prevent a repeat without investments in public health infrastructure. The portions of the $6.2 billion package aimed at taming the current outbreak seem likely to pass; however, public health experts fear that Congress will not approve unrestricted funding for ongoing needs in poor countries.

“The vaccines are really, really important, but we still have to do everything else,” Bruce Aylward, MD, who directs the on-the-ground response to Ebola for the World Health Organization, said yesterday. “There’s a big risk that people think it's going to solve the problem. It’s not.”

In papers and in testimony, both Dr Fauci and Thomas Frieden, MD, director of the CDC, have made similar warnings, arguing that spending to prevent outbreaks is both morally right and cost-effective. “Public health is sorely underinvested in, and yet, it is a best buy,” Dr Frieden told the World Bank earlier this fall.

More than 17,000 cases of Ebola have been reported globally, nearly all in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. However, less attention was paid to Ebola in the United States until a traveler from Liberia landed in a Dallas emergency department (ED). Thomas Eric Duncan’s symptoms initially went unrecognized and he was sent home; he was diagnosed when he returned to the ED and later died. Two nurses who treated him contracted Ebola but have subsequently recovered.

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