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Results from Norwegian-led Ebola vaccine trials ‘very promising’

The preliminary results of a Norwegian-led study in Guinea indicate that the first effective Ebola vaccine may have been successfully developed. ‘An effective vaccine would be a significant breakthrough in the fight against Ebola, and would be invaluable for the affected countries and the international community as a whole,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende.

The preliminary results are presented in an article in the medical journal The Lancet today. 

‘The results are very promising, and bode well for our efforts to stop the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa and to deal more effectively with similar outbreaks in the future. I am pleased that Norway has played an active role in achieving these results,’ said Mr Brende.

The vaccines study has been a collaborative effort between the health authorities in Guinea, the World Health Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. It has been funded primarily by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via the Norwegian Research Council, and by the UK-based charitable foundation Wellcome Trust and the Canadian health authorities. Médecins Sans Frontières, the World Health Organization and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have also made substantial financial contributions.

‘We congratulate the international team that has collaborated on the vaccine trials, not least the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, which has played a leading role in this work. This is an important breakthrough, which will give us a new and powerful tool in the fight against Ebola,’ said Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie.

The vaccines study has been carried out in record time. After the first planning meeting was held in November 2014, the process from developing the concept to gaining regulatory approval of research protocols took less than a month. The vaccine trials began in Guinea at the end of March. This means that the preliminary results are available less than a year after the first human vaccine trials were carried out; usually, a process of this kind takes around 10 years.

The field studies in Guinea have involved more than 4 000 people. The results that have been published today indicate that the vaccine may provide complete protection against Ebola. However, a number of questions remain, such as how long the immunity lasts and whether cases of Ebola may nonetheless arise among those who have been vaccinated. The trials will therefore continue, to make sure that the evaluation of the vaccine is as reliable as possible. At the earliest, the vaccine could be available on the market next year, following the necessary approval processes. 

‘The Ebola outbreak in West Africa revealed major shortcomings in global pandemic preparedness. Insufficient international cooperation was one of the main reasons for the outbreak spiralling out of control. The vaccine trials in Guinea are therefore an important success story, and highlight the value of targeted international cooperation,’ said Mr Høie.

Since December 2013, more than 27 000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus, and more than 11 000 of them have lost their lives. This makes the latest outbreak by far the largest in the history of Ebola. Although the number of new cases of infection has been dramatically reduced since December 2014, the outbreak is continuing, with around 20–30 new cases being reported every week.

‘The Ebola outbreak has been a terrible tragedy for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. It has caused great suffering for a vast number of people, not only those directly affected by the disease. Norway has therefore worked to bring the outbreak to an end, and has sought to address the humanitarian needs and strengthen international preparedness for pandemics. The vaccine trials in Guinea have been an important part of Norway’s efforts. Altogether, Norway has now provided over NOK 0.5 billion to the fight against Ebola,’ said Mr Brende. 

For more information on the study, see the article in The Lancet and the website of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health

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