Ebola roundup: J&J invests $200M in R&D, Glaxo says vaccine will come too late

As the Ebola outbreak continues with deadly momentum, drugmakers are working at lightning speed to develop a vaccine.

The current outbreak has killed nearly 5,000 people, with most of the deaths in hard-hit countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. But the World Health Organization (WHO) says that is likely a low estimate, and the actual death toll may be as high as 15,000.

WHO has called on Big Pharma to work with government agencies to speed the development of promising treatments and vaccines to help halt the spread of the disease, and the industry has responded. Plus, a new €200 million ($250 million) investment from Europe's public-private Innovative Medicines Initiative is expected to help finance clinical trials of vaccines.

Here's a roundup of the latest Ebola vaccine news:

  • GlaxoSmithKline: Dr. Ripley Ballou, head of GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Ebola vaccine research, told the BBC last week that the vaccine it's developing alongside the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Vaccine Research Center will come too late for the current epidemic. Glaxo is testing its cAd3-ZEBOV vaccine in a Phase I trial at the NIH in Bethesda, MD, and has just started clinical trials in Mali. A similar study is ongoing in Cambridge, U.K. GSK CEO Andrew Witty says he expects an initial supply of the vaccine to be ready by the end of the year.
  • Johnson & Johnson/Bavarian Nordic: Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) is pumping $200 million into development efforts for its Ebola vaccine, which it is working on alongside Denmark's Bavarian Nordic. J&J's Janssen says it's looking to produce one million doses of the Ebola vaccine in 2015, with 250,000 of those to be released in clinical trials by May. J&J will kick off clinical trials to assess the safety of its vaccine in January in the U.S., Europe and West Africa.
  • Profectus BioSciences: Profectus BioSciences has just joined the race toward an Ebola vaccine, nabbing $5.8 million from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and another $17.1 million from the departments of Health and Human Services and Defense. The company says a single dose of its vaccine, VesiculoVax, has shown 100% protection in monkeys against Ebola Zaire, the strain that's responsible for the current outbreak. The funding will help propel Profectus into clinical trials and support manufacturing efforts. 
  • NewLink Genetics: NIH has launched a Phase I trial to evaluate VSV-ZEBOV, originally developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and now owned by NewLink Genetics ($NLNK). The trial will assess the vaccine's safety and its ability to generate an immune system response in healthy adults who are given two doses, called a prime-boost strategy. Last week, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research began testing the vaccine candidate as a single dose at its Clinical Trials Center in Silver Spring, MD.

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