Late-stage trials for Glaxo, Merck Ebola jabs could begin this month in West Africa

WHO's Marie-Paule Kieny

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and tandem Merck ($MRK) and NewLink ($NLNK) may have only recently ramped up development efforts for their Ebola vaccine candidates, but late-stage trials of the jabs in the affected countries are already on the horizon, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

As WHO's assistant director-general of health systems and innovation Marie-Paule Kieny said at a Friday briefing, both vaccines have exhibited an "acceptable safety profile," and late-stage trials could start up in Liberia by the end of this month. Fellow Ebola-stricken countries Sierra Leone and Guinea may see trials in February.

Vaccine giants Glaxo and Merck, in addition to Big Pharma peer Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and a number of smaller companies, have gone full speed ahead to develop a vaccine to fight the deadly virus, which has already infected more than 20,000 and killed 8,000-plus since the outbreak in West Africa began.

"There has been no holiday" for people working on the vaccines, Kieny said, as quoted by Bloomberg. "Only long days and sleepless nights. The world is waiting."

But results from the trials may not come for about 6 months after that, Kieny noted. In particular, the vaccine's effect in Liberia may be difficult to assess, as the number of cases in the country is currently dropping.

J&J CSO Paul Stoffels

Still, there's hope that the vaccines will arrive in time to help combat the current outbreak. Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer at J&J--whose prospect began human trials earlier this week, months behind GSK and Merck--is confident that even his company's will be able to aid in the fight.

"As long as there are still Ebola patients, there is the risk that it will continue to go around the region," he told reporters. "Does it come too late? … I don't think so."

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