BREAKTHROUGHS BLOG

October 21, 2019

Research Roundup: Merck Ebola vaccine approved by European regulators, TB funding gap persists, and new NTD detected in Brazil

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
GHTC
PATH/Wendy Stone

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An Ebola vaccine developed by Merck & Co was approved by European regulators on Friday in a move hailed as a “triumph for public health” by the World Health Organization (WHO). The vaccine, which protects against the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus—the one that most commonly causes outbreaks—, is being used on an emergency basis during the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The regulators recommended conditional marketing authorization for the vaccine, which the European Commission is likely to affirm in the coming weeks, granting full marketing authorization to all member states under its purview. The vaccine is also under review by the US Food and Drug Administration using a fast-track pathway, with a decision expected in the first quarter of next year.

Last week, WHO released its 2019 Global Tuberculosis Report which highlights several new technologies in the pipeline to diagnose and treat tuberculosis (TB), including a promising vaccine that could prevent people with latent TB from developing the disease. The report cites that the vaccine is one of 23 drugs, combination regimens, and vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials. Though funding for TB research and development reached US$772 million in 2017, it remains well below the target of $2 billion annually agreed to by United Nations member states at the High-Level Meeting on TB in 2018.

Researchers in Brazil have identified a new parasitic disease that causes severe damage to the liver, spleen, and skin and is believed to have infected more than 150 people and caused two deaths in a northeast region of the country. The disease displays similar symptoms to two forms of leishmaniasis–a neglected tropical disease spread by infected female sandflies that attacks both the skin and internal organs. However, this new disease, which is caused by the Cridia sergipensis parasite, does not appear to respond to conventional treatments for leishmaniasis. A researcher involved in the journal article identifying this new disease emphasized the need for further research. “This is the first warning. We still need to diagnose where this parasite is located, what the vectors are, how it is transmitted, and develop an effective medicine,” he said.

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