THE KEY to finding a vaccine to finally beat the killer Ebola virus could lie in Oxford.
Scientist Adrian Hill, of Headington, is leading clinical trials into the deadly illness at the Jenner Institute at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital A call has now gone out for Oxfordshire residents to play a role in combatting Ebola, which is ravaging parts of West Africa and has sparked a global health alert.
Ebola has killed more than 1,400 people in the current outbreak.
Prof Hill will need 60 volunteers, most expected to be from Oxford and the surrounding area, to take part in trials next month.
Each set of volunteers will be split into groups of 20 to receive different doses of the vaccine so researchers can work out the best dose to use.
Prof Hill, 55, pictured, director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, said: “The tragic events unfolding in Africa demand an urgent response.
“In recent years, similar investigational vaccines have safely immunised infants and adults against a range of diseases including malaria, HIV and Hepatitis C.
“We, and all our partners on this project, are optimistic that this candidate vaccine may prove useful against Ebola.”
Prof Hill, who has worked in the vaccination field for the past 20 years, added he was “pretty confident” that a vaccine could work against Ebola.
People from The Gambia and Mali will also take part in the trial for the vaccine, which has been in development since last year.
Volunteers could get paid expenses of up to about £400.
Prof Hill said there was zero possibility of volunteers involved in the trial catching Ebola.
He added: “The vaccine takes a gene from Ebola and puts in it a virus carrier.
“The carrier happens to be a safe version of a common cold virus.
“There is a lot of urgency and in terms of developing a clinical trial programme this is happening faster than anything I have come across.
“Vaccines can take a decade to develop but we want to develop something within about six months. If 10 people are infected with Ebola then between five and nine of them will die.”
Oxford’s Jenner Institute has extensive experience of clinical trials of similar vaccines, which they have evaluated clinically for six other diseases in Europe and Africa.
The trials, being co-developed by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline, are being fast-tracked with funding from an international consortium in response to the Ebola epidemic, which the World Health Organisation recently declared a public health emergency.
A £2.8m grant from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) will allow the team led by Prof Hill to start safety tests of the vaccine alongside similar trials in the United States, run by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The phase one trials will begin as soon as they receive ethical and regulatory approval, and the UK research teams could start vaccinating volunteers from mid-September.
The consortium’s funding will enable GSK to begin manufacturing up to 10,000 additional doses of the vaccine at the same time as the initial clinical trials, so if the trials are successful stocks could then be made available to the WHO to create an immunisation programme.
The Oxford trial will be based at the Oxford Vaccine Centre at the Churchill Hospital.
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