Johnson & Johnson announced on Friday, Oct. 9, the start of the clinical trial of an experimental Ebola vaccine being developed by its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. The trial highlights the company's determination to develop the vaccine even as the epidemic appears to have waned in West Africa.
The study called EBOVAC-Salone will be conducted in Sierra Leone's Kambia district and will evaluate the safety and efficacy of J&J's vaccine in Sierra Leone's general population including children, adolescents, people infected with HIV and those who are vulnerable to contracting the hemorrhagic disease.
The company said that recruitment for the trial is underway and that the first volunteers have already been given their initial dose of the vaccine.
The vaccine uses a combination of two components. Participants of the study will first receive a dose to strengthen their immune system. It will be followed by another dose to boost their immune response two months later with the aim of strengthening and making the immunity last longer.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, the worst hit by the Ebola epidemic that peaked in September last year, have had no infection for a week, the first since March 2014 when the outbreak started.
The number of new cases has so far declined but health experts are not taking chances given the possibility that the disease, which currently has no licensed cure, treatment and vaccine, could strike again and claim many lives.
"We cannot afford to be complacent about Ebola. We urgently need a vaccine that offers long-term protection of the population, including health workers and other care givers, in order to prevent a resurgence of the virus," said London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine director Peter Piot.
"To achieve this goal, it is vital to test a range of vaccine candidates, particularly in the areas affected by the epidemic where we are still seeing new cases emerging, and there is evidence that the infection may have longer-term effects among survivors."
Merck and NewLink Genetics' ebola vaccine was proven to be 100 percent effective in a clinical study that was conducted in Guinea earlier this year. Scientists and drug companies, however, continue to hunt for potential alternatives because other kinds of vaccine could work better for certain population groups. Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline also works on an Ebola vaccine.