Research Roundup: Ebola vaccinations in North Kivu, the role of biobanks in research, and a new Zika vaccine candidate
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The Ministry of Public Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo has launched Ebola vaccinations for high-risk populations only one week after announcing the latest outbreak of the disease in the North Kivu province. Of the 44 cases reported so far, 17 have been confirmed. A total of 3,220 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine candidate, developed by Merck, are currently available in country while additional doses have been requested. An agreement between Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Merck will ensure additional doses of the vaccine are available on an emergency basis as it goes through the licensing process. The World Health Organization has provided key logistical support in establishing a cold chain and sending necessary supplies for the vaccinations, aiding in the deployment of vaccine experts, and facilitating the negotiation of protocols with the manufacturer and the national authorities.
Biobanks provide vital specimens and infrastructure to support scientific research and innovation. While in the developing world, biobanks are well established, issues such as unreliable internet connectivity, a lack of access to resources such as water and electricity, a lack of highly skilled and trained personnel, and the cost of setup have stifled their establishment in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) on the African continent. Despite these barriers, LMICs in Africa should prioritize setting up biobanks, argues a group of researchers from the University of Western Cape and Stellenbosch University. They write, “Having access to rich genetic diversity across Africa would allow researchers to understand disease, develop better diagnostics and treatments, medicines and vaccines, geared toward the continent’s population.”
A single-dose Zika vaccine candidate developed by researchers at The Ohio State University has proven effective in triggering an immune response in mice, according to a recent study. The vaccine uses a weakened, harmless form of the Vesicular stomatis virus—also known as foot-and-mouth diseases in cattle—to deliver proteins from the Zika virus. This method has been used with other vaccines, such as the Ebola vaccine being used in the recent outbreaks. While further testing is required to see if it is effective in humans, the vaccine candidate’s suggested ability to elicit an immune response with one dose means it has the potential to be especially valuable in hard-to-reach areas and low-resource settings.