October 13, 2014 1:47 pm

5 things to know about Canada’s experimental Ebola vaccine

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WATCH ABOVE: U.S. President Barack Obama wants answers after a “breach of protocol” was blamed for a Dallas nurse catching Ebola from a dying patient. Adriana Diaz is in Dallas with the latest on this growing crisis.

TORONTO — As the Ebola outbreak spreads across West Africa, Canadian scientists are beginning clinical trials for an experimental vaccine that was developed in the country.

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They are saying the start of the phase 1 trials for EBOV-VSV mark a promising development in the global fight against the disease.

READ MORE: How does Ebola spread? 5 things you need to know

“The Canadian vaccine provides great hope and promise because it has shown to be 100 per cent effective in preventing the spread of the Ebola virus when tested on animals,” Health Minister Rona Ambrose said at a news conference Monday.

Here’s what you need to know about VSV-EBOV.

It has Canadian fingers all over its development

VSV-EBOV comes out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory. The Canadian government owns the intellectual property linked to the vaccine and is licensing the rights to U.S. company NewLink Genetics.

READ MOREWhy health officials say the Ebola epidemic won’t spread into Canada

“Canada has long been a leader in Ebola research and innovation and this vaccine is the product of years of hard work,” Dr. Gregory Taylor, the country’s chief public health officer said.

“It is our sincere hope that when these trials are complete, the vaccine can be used to help save lives and put an end to this devastating outbreak.”

It’s effective in animals

So far, the vaccine has never been tested on humans, but VSV-EBOV has “shown promise” in animal trials. It’s still unclear how much of the vaccine is enough to protect its users, but for now, dosage is being determined based on the research done on primates.

These studies have shown this vaccine works in primates both to prevent infection when given before exposure, and to increase survival chances when given quickly after exposure.

Here’s how it could be a game-changer

The trials are taking place in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The vaccine will be tested on healthy individuals to see how well it works, whether there are side effects and what the proper dosage is, Ambrose said.

She also noted that it proves safe and effective in humans, the vaccine could help stop the devastating outbreak that has killed thousands of people in West Africa.

The results are slated for December.

READ MORE: What you need to know about Canada’s contribution to Ebola vaccines

Other phase 1 clinical trials are being considered in Canada, Europe and Africa.

NewLink said earlier this month that at least five clinical trials involving the vaccine would soon be under way in the United States, Germany, Switzerland and an unnamed African country that is not battling Ebola.

1,000 vials have been donated to West Africa

Last August, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it would donate its experimental vaccine to the cause in West Africa. At the time, Canada had about 1,500 vials — some of which would be held for study, and in case of imported Ebola cases should the disease arrive in a Canadian hospital.

READ MORE: Canada to donate experimental Ebola vaccine to West African outbreak response

Twenty vials in total are going towards the phase 1 VSV-EBOV clinical trials.

It’s one in a string of other vaccines in the pipeline

Scientists around the world are getting the green light to move ahead on vaccine development as the world’s largest Ebola outbreak rages on.

Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline, for example, each received the go ahead for clinical trials – in one case, a year ahead of its initial plans for human testing.

These vaccines all differ from another Canadian-U.S. experimental drug, ZMapp, which was used on two U.S. doctors who tested positive for Ebola during their stints in West Africa.

In that case, ZMapp treated the disease, whereas the vaccine would attempt to prevent infection outright.

READ MORE: Companies race to begin first human tests of Ebola vaccines

For the most part, the therapies and vaccines in the works have been tested solely on primates.

There is no cure for Ebola, and because the disease is so rare, it’s tricky to raise investment funds.

The current outbreak is now forcing governments and drug makers to speed up research and development efforts.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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