On Monday, NewLink Genetics announced it has made a deal with drug maker Merck, to research, develop, manufacture and distribute an experimental Ebola vaccine, NPR reported. The move is expected to put both leading Ebola vaccine efforts on an equal footing.
According to NPR, the NewLink vaccine is a based on a harmless virus, genetically engineered to take in bits of the Ebola virus.
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The Canadian government developed the vaccine and licensed it to NewLink for $200, 000 four years ago, while the U.S. Defense Department is providing development funding to NewLink.
But, according to the NPR report, NewLink has been struggling to keep up with the vaccine development of GlaxoSmithKline.
Incidentally, a federal appeals court heard arguments last week on a pay-for-delay patent deal between GlaxoSmithKline and Teva Pharmaceuticals, which specializes in mass producing generic drugs as soon as their patent expires. Glaxo agreed to allow Teva to manufacture chewable and tablet forms of Lamictal before the patent expired, to avoid a Teva lawsuit. Glaxo agreed not to sell its own “authorized” generic version.
Back to Ebola — Johnson & Johnson’s effort to come up with a vaccine is lagging behind the two leaders, Glaxo and Newlink. Especially now, that Merck is giving it support to the latter.
“Merck’s vaccine development expertise, commercial leadership and history of successful strategic alliances make it an ideal partner to expedite the development of [the experimental vaccine] and, if demonstrated to be efficacious and well-tolerated, to make it available to individuals and communities at risk of Ebola virus infection around the world, ” NewLink CEO Charles Link said in a statement.
Both vaccines are already being given to human volunteers in the U.S., Europe and Africa, to test their safety.
The World Health Organization has said it hopes the vaccines will be ready early next year for testing on people with a high risk to contract Ebola.
Healthcare workers in West Africa come to mind, especially before they go about riding the NY Subway.
Health officials say an effective vaccine could help slow the spread of Ebola, but they say the epidemic will only end through old-fashioned public health measures: identifying and isolating everyone who is infected with the virus.