Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stirring the Immune System to React: HIV/Ebola

"Most want to do it [take part in Ebola-vaccine research trials] so they can contribute to something they see as being important. Some come from areas that were involved with Ebola, and that makes it a little more important to them."
"[Data exists affirming the vaccine works and is safe] but we don't have data with people living with HIV."
"[The National Microbial Laboratories' development of the vaccine represents a] fantastic indication of the quality of scientific research in our country [Canada]. I think it is a strong indicator that scientists in Canada are doing good work, and we need to encourage investment in our research activities."
"If we invest properly, we can really make a big impact on the world stage."
Dr. Curtis Cooper, researcher, The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
A woman gets vaccinated in March 2015 at a health centre in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, during the first clinical trials of the VSV-EBOV vaccine against the Ebola virus. CELLOU BINANI / AFP/Getty Images

A study is to be undertaken with volunteers expected to number 200 in total, from Canada and Africa. Of that total, fifty of the volunteers in the research study will be Ottawans. To run for roughly two years, the trial is led by the Canadian Immunization Research Network, partnering with the vaccine manufacturer Merck. The vaccine, named VSV-EBOV, had been developed at the National Microbial Laboratories in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

A previous, 2015 clinical trial took place in Guinea, the epicentre of the worst Ebola outbreak ever. That trial concluded that the vaccine was efficacious to a gratifying degree of 100 percent in some people, though a more recent review slightly diminished its actual effectiveness rate. Still considered in the experimental stage, the vaccine was successfully used in West Africa in the quelling of smaller outbreaks of Ebola.

Once it is licensed, the vaccine is set to become the world's first such protection against the Ebola virus. This international trial, using participants living with HIV is meant -- as a critical part of understanding the extent of the vaccine's effectiveness on vulnerable populations such as those living with HIV -- to determine its full usefulness. HIV is common among the populations in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"These populations can be most at-risk during outbreaks, because of their compromised immune systems", explained Dr. Cecile Tremblay, the protocol developer of the study. Dr. Cooper, who is also director of the regional hepatitis program at The Ottawa Hospital, explains that there will be no shortage of volunteers with HIV offering to be part of the study.

Both Ottawa and Montreal are part of the study sites, with research taking place as well in Senegal and Burkina Faso. The clinical trial is not meant to assess if the vaccine protects the subjects against Ebola, the purpose for which the vaccine was intended, since it would be unethical to expose trial volunteers to Ebola. Rather, its purpose is to determine whether study subjects' immune systems will react to the vaccine by producing antibodies in response to its presence.

The outcome of the study is to enable researchers to determine the effectiveness and safety of this vaccine when its administration to the study subjects with HIV produces the hoped-for protective immune response.

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