August 26, 2014 5:24 pm

Halifax company could play hand in fight against Ebola

HALIFAX – A Halifax-based company could play a key role in the fight against Ebola.

Immunovaccine announced positive results from a study of an Ebola vaccine using patented technology it created called Depovax.

The company was approached to do the study by National Institutes of Health, NIH, in the United States.

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“[The outbreak] prompted them to come to us to see if we can enhance that [Ebola] vaccine and see what value Depovax can add to an Ebola vaccine,” he said.

“[Depovax] forces the immune system in the body to process the vaccine in a different way. It forces the immune system to process the vaccine over a longer period of time than your normal vaccine,” said CEO Marc Mansour.

“As a result of that prolonged exposure to the vaccine, the immune system gets really ramped up to the vaccine and generates a much stronger immune response to the vaccine.”

Mansour said the Depovax technology forces the immune system to process the vaccine over a period of weeks rather than hours and days.

“In a way, we’re getting the immune system to really take its time and really process this vaccine and generate a much stronger immune response.”

The test started a few months ago, before the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa, and results came back last week.

Four monkeys received two doses of the Depovax formulated Ebola vaccine. Then ten weeks later, the monkeys received a lethal dose of a wild type Zaire strain of Ebola.  All vaccinated animals survived while all unvaccinated animals died.

“I think this work is pretty important because it’s saying now we can enable a vaccine to be highly efficacious. Potentially we could have a path to take an Ebola vaccine to a clinical trial,” Mansour said.

Mansour admits the study was small but he said it shows potential.

“The results we’ve seen in this monkey study are considered highly efficacious despite this being a small study, only because we were able to protect all animals in that study.” he said.

The CEO said the next steps for the company include testing to see whether the vaccine works in other animals and whether it could provide the same type of protection in a single dose.

Mansour said talks are in the works with other companies for a development program for an Ebola vaccine.

Ebola is a highly fatal disease and has killed more than 1,400 people. It is currently clustered in Western Africa though there are fears it could spread around the world.

There is no vaccine for the virus and no treatments for patients who contract it.

But Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief public health officer, said it is important to take the news with a bit of caution.

“It’s still very much an experimental vaccine. I think it’s an opportunity to gain some experience, to study the vaccine and what its potential impact could be,” he said.

“We need to back up and say ‘Yeah it’s great we have a vaccine we can study’ but, really, the roots of Ebola are based in some of the poorest countries in the world where there is no healthcare infrastructure.”

“A vaccine isn’t going to solve that.”

Dr. Scott Halperin, the head of infectious disease at IWK and a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University, said it’s critical to have vaccines for serious, deadly diseases like Ebola.

“Ebola is a very scary infection. The scary part about it is it’s spreading. Ebola is an infection that, with proper control measures, one can avoid large scale spread. But that’s very different in countries that don’t have a lot of resources.”

“Unfortunately these are the same countries that don’t have a lot of money to cause commercial companies to create a vaccine. This is where the government really has to step in, where as humanitarian assistance, we make a vaccine other than for profit.”

Halperin said it could take years for a vaccine to actually make its way to the public.

“They have to do toxicology studies, giving the vaccine to several different species to make sure, at higher doses, there are no adverse effects in organs or the injection site. Once all that data is viewed by the regulators, then they will authorize the ability to go into early stage clinical studies. Phase one studies are done in small number of volunteers. They’re monitored very carefully for any sign of toxicity. Once that is done, it can go into larger groups of people to see if it actually works,” he said.

He estimates it could take several years before a vaccine gets to the market.

Ebola can cause a grisly death with bleeding from the eyes, mouth and ears. The virus can only be transmitted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the sick or from touching victims’ bodies, leaving doctors and other health care workers most vulnerable to contracting it.

- with files from AP

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