BGU Ebola researcher: Lack of developed world interest in Ebola delayed work on vaccine

“Current experimental vaccines will likely enter the market at a time that the current epidemic is in the process of burning out,” the researcher predicted.

October 27, 2014 18:42
2 minute read.
Ebola virus

Fighting ebola campaign. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A number of experimental vaccines to protect against the Ebola virus have been developed by the US Army and other American agencies and are being produced by some pharmaceutical companies that were tested on primates, but did not reach the clinical testing stage because of the lack of priority in Western governments, according to Ben-Gurion University microbiologist Dr. Leslie Lobel.

“They are likely to work in humans, but they were not tested so far, and their efficacy is not ensured, Lobel told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. But vaccines are not the solution in the long term as they cannot be used for treatment, and large populations cannot be vaccinated in poor African countries where the disease is endemic.

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In addition, it takes weeks for vaccinated people to develop immunity.”

Lobel noted that his work with survivors could help understand what effective immunity is and determine vaccine efficacy, but that he himself does not make vaccines.

Lobel, who has devoted the past 12 years and five annual trips to Liberia – one of the three major African foci of the mostly fatal disease – to finding out what factors saved Ebola survivors from succumbing to the virus. “Current experimental vaccines will likely enter the market at a time that the current epidemic is in the process of burning out,” he predicted.

He added that this is “an example of the failure of the system. We cannot blame drug companies, as it is the role of governments to ensure protection of the population against rare and deadly disease that the economics of the marketplace cannot sustain.”

There are as yet no drugs or vaccines proven to save people from Ebola, in large part because the infectious disease has been so uncommon in the past few decades that until now it has been hard to attract research funding. West African nations hardest hit by the epidemic are unlikely to be able to pay for vaccines and drugs, but rich Western countries may subsidize them, mostly to prevent the disease from spreading in developed countries, he said.

Companies are betting that governments and aid groups will foot the bill.

Lobel was commenting on a statement at a Kiryat Shmona conference (organized by the Galil Research Institute, with support from the European Union) on Sunday made by Prof. Rino Rappuoli, the global head of research at Novartis Vaccines.

Ebola could have been prevented already five years ago, but the lack of investment because of the belief it did not threaten the West prevented it, said the official from Novartis, which is not leading the race in developing a vaccine yet. Rappuoli predicted that by the end of 2015, however, there will be a few million doses of vaccine for using on people at risk. He believed vaccine would be able to thwart the spread of the disease.

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