EU scheme commits $452 million to research Ebola vaccines and tests

A nurse prepares a syringe containing an experimental Ebola virus vaccine next to a volunteer called Marie (left) during a media visit at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Lausanne on Nov 4, 2014. The Europe Union and drugmakers pledged
A nurse prepares a syringe containing an experimental Ebola virus vaccine next to a volunteer called Marie (left) during a media visit at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) in Lausanne on Nov 4, 2014. The Europe Union and drugmakers pledged on Thursday to invest 280 million euros (S$452.6 million) into Ebola research, with the lion's share going to fast-track the testing and manufacture of potential vaccines. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - The Europe Union and drugmakers pledged on Thursday to invest 280 million euros (S$452.6 million) into Ebola research, with the lion's share going to fast-track the testing and manufacture of potential vaccines.

The funding will go to projects backed by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private scheme jointly paid for by the European Commission and the pharmaceuticals industry.

Reuters reported on Oct 22 that an IMI investment of around 200 million euros was pending. Since then there have been further discussions about the resources needed for various projects and the amount has been increased.

The final document setting out the plans commits the European Commission to giving up to 140 million euros, with companies providing an equivalent amount in staff time, goods and services.

"The EU is determined to help find a solution to Ebola. We are putting our money where our mouth is and boosting EU research on Ebola with an additional 280 million euros," said Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for research.

The move shows how momentum is building to get medical interventions, especially vaccines, to West Africa as soon as possible to try to control the world's worst Ebola outbreak, which has killed nearly 5,000 people, according to official data. Many experts believe the true death toll is a lot higher.

With a total budget of 3.3 billion euros for the period 2014 to 2024, Europe's IMI scheme is the world's biggest public-private-partnership in the life sciences arena.

It was launched in 2008 and has 46 ongoing projects, some of which are focused on specific health issues such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and obesity. Others involve work on broader challenges in drug development.

In the case of Ebola, five urgent projects have been identified involving the three stages of vaccine clinical trials; vaccine manufacturing; vaccine transport and storage; regimens for vaccination deployment; and rapid diagnostic tests.

The aim is to head off some of the technical obstacles that public health officials, governments and drugmakers are grappling with as they race to develop the world's first Ebola vaccines in record time.

The challenges include finding sufficient vaccine manufacturing and filling capacity, getting accelerated clinical trial results, winning rapid regulatory approvals and building a supply chain in Africa for products that must be stored at ultra-low temperatures.

Two leading vaccine candidates from GlaxoSmithKline and NewLink Genetics are already in human safety trials, and another five should begin testing in the first quarter of next year. One from Johnson & Johnson will start trials in January.

The three leading companies hope to make millions of doses over the course of 2015.