New vaccines and a 15-minute diagnostic test are among eight research projects being launched under the first round of a dedicated Ebola funding programme run by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a tie-up between the EU and Europe's pharmaceutical industry.
The research, worth in total EUR 215 million, covers projects investigating diagnostic tests, including one that works in under 15 minutes, vaccine development, vaccine manufacture, and making sure that patients take all the required doses.
Across the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone over 8 million people have died from the disease, according to figures released by the World Health Organization (WHO) on 11 January. At the moment there is no vaccine against Ebola, nor a test that can diagnose people rapidly and effectively.
‘We are speeding up the development of an Ebola vaccine as well as rapid diagnostic tests to aid heroic health workers,’ Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said. ‘These are the tools we need to defeat Ebola once and for all.’
The world’s biggest Ebola outbreak started in Guinea at the end of 2013, and people have been diagnosed with the disease in Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, the US, the UK and Spain.
In October last year, five Ebola research projects received EUR 24.4 million funding after the EU activated an emergency fast-track procedure. In November, the IMI asked researchers to submit proposals for its specially dedicated Ebola+ programme.
‘We are speeding up the development of an Ebola vaccine.’
Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
The eight projects are the first to receive their funding under the programme. Out of the EUR 215 million total funding of the projects, EUR 114 million comes from the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding programme, while EUR 101 million comes from pharmaceutical companies.
‘The launch of these exciting new projects demonstrates the ability of the Innovative Medicines Initiative to respond rapidly to emerging healthcare emergencies with a programme that will tackle a range of challenges in Ebola research while complementing work supported by other organisations,’ IMI Acting Executive Director Irene Norstedt said.
Ebola first appeared in 1976 simultaneously in Sudan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a village near the Ebola river, from which it takes its name. The fatality rate of the current outbreak is approximately 60 %, according to the WHO.
Nearly 100 years ago scientists developed a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). Today, there are 10 million new cases worldwide and 1.6 million deaths from the disease every year. Increasingly, these cases are becoming difficult to treat as the bug that causes the disease can be resistant to antibiotics. However, several new TB vaccines are under development and there is growing optimism that a new vaccine will emerge, says Helen McShane, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, UK. This could save millions of lives, she said, but more work is needed to reassure the general public that vaccines are safe and effective.
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