Experts propose Ebola 'champion group' to guide vax progress

Ebola virus
Experts proposed a "champion group" for Ebola vaccine development in a report released Tuesday.

Even as the WHO said last year that the deadly Ebola outbreak was no longer an international emergency, vaccine experts continue to press officials to not let up in the fight against the virus.

A new report published Tuesday by representatives of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and other influential vaccines organizations highlights 13 remaining “gaps” in the world’s preparations against Ebola. While acknowledging the WHO for its leadership, the authors said that a “champion group” for Ebola vaccines might be able to better set goals and guide the progress against the virus.

The authors said the entity could be a “new public-private partnership that would operate independent of the WHO, but with WHO input and guidance.”

In the report, the group points out that the WHO hasn’t decided on emergency use applications for vaccine candidates from Merck and Johnson & Johnson, and that stockpiling strategies for promising vaccines haven’t been developed

Dubbed “Team B,” the experts also said that “high-level vaccination strategies” for future outbreaks aren’t in place, among other noted shortcomings.

Last March, WHO declared that the Ebola epidemic would no longer be classified as an international emergency as the spread had slowed. Days later, Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar, who’s a co-chair of Team B, warned that “complacency” could leave vaccine work unfinished.

In the report, Farrar echoed that sentiment, stressing that experts can’t make predictions about the next Ebola outbreak. He wrote that the “global community needs to move quickly so we are not caught unprepared” in the event of another emergency.

The team working on Merck’s rVSV-ZEBOV made significant strides over the course of the Ebola epidemic and after, with the company reporting last summer that it won regulatory designations from the FDA and EMA in its push toward licensure.

Touching on a topic of frequent discussion in vaccine circles, Team B wrote that a “shared risk/shared reward” model might help manufacturers looking to get involved in emerging disease research. For several outbreaks to date, profit-based drug companies have been wary to get involved in early research when the economics of a disease and vaccine are unclear.

That was the case when a deadly MERS outbreak hit South Korea in 2015; at the time, experts expressed frustration that there wasn’t a vaccine even though much about the virus was known; there remains no vaccine against that disease.

Still, Farrar told the Financial Times last April that he believes governments, vaccine companies and research institutions are increasingly working together as multiple recent outbreaks signal a trend of frequent and faster pandemics.

In an effort to contribute to global “biopreparedness,” GlaxoSmithKline recently opened a R&D site in Rockville, Maryland, where scientists are to research potentially deadly emerging diseases.

Going forward, Team B is prepared to assist authorities however it can to ensure that the global health community is prepared against Ebola, CIDRAP News reports.