August 12, 2019

Research Roundup: A portable “cholera detection lab," Sabin acquires rights to develop Ebola and Marburg vaccines, and Uganda starts largest-ever Ebola vaccine trial

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Satvir Malhotra

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Researchers at Purdue University have created a device that can rapidly detect the bacterium which causes cholera in water. Unlike traditional tests, which require a well-equipped laboratory and three to five days to process results, this device acts as a portable “cholera detection lab” built around a smartphone. A water sample is placed in a single-use, disposable test kit which uses chemicals that make copies of the toxin gene in cholera bacteria in a process called amplification. If the water becomes more viscous, it signals that harmful bacteria has been identified and the imaging system on the smartphone will capture the results, which can be sent to researchers or charities who can address the water quality issue. The device is currently in early field testing.

The nonprofit Sabin Vaccine Institute (Sabin) has acquired the rights from GSK to develop three experimental, single-dose vaccines for Marburg virus, Ebola Sudan, and Ebola Zaire—the strain of the Ebola virus responsible for the yearlong outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Sabin will develop these vaccines in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Research Center, whose scientists originally designed the vaccines which all use the same approach to induce immunity. Though the vaccines have not been tested in phase 3 trials, which would show their efficacy in preventing infection, a phase 2 trial conducted at the end of the West African Ebola outbreak showed that the Ebola Zaire vaccine produced an antibody response in most recipients that lasted up to a year.

The largest-ever trial of a preventive Ebola vaccine in Uganda began last week, amid fears of the virus spreading from neighboring DRC. The two-year trial, which will test a two-dose Ebola candidate vaccine developed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals of Johnson & Johnson, will involve 800 participants picked from core health workers and non-core personnel in the Mbarara district, located in the southwest of the country, and will assess the vaccine’s safety and efficacy in inducing an immune response to prevent the disease. The trial will be conducted by both Ugandan and international researchers and is sponsored by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Ebola has killed more than 1,800 people in the DRC during this latest outbreak, which began over a year ago.