Many members of the public are familiar with Oxford’s involvement in the creation of vaccines for Covid-19 across the last year and a half. However, the university’s scientists and immunologists have shown no signs of slowing down as a new project for a vaccine to tackle Ebola has been announced.
The Ebola vaccine has entered Phase 1 testing, as 26 healthy 18-55 year olds will be asked to receive one dose of the ChAdOx1 biEBOV vaccine. The accompanying study will be long-term, with multiple check-ups and investigations across six months and the final results announced in mid 2022.
The comments of the scientists associated with the project are a reminder that although Covid-19 spread further and provoked far wider restrictions, Ebola has been a public health emergency in certain West African countries at many stages. Professor Teresa Lambe OBE, a leading vaccine scientist at the Jenner Institute, summed up the crisis in recalling that ‘the 2014-2016 Ebola virus disease outbreak in West Africa cost more than 11,000 lives and had a catastrophic effect on healthcare systems,’ thereby meaning that ‘we need more vaccines’ to fight the disease. Dr Daniel Jenkin, another expert at the Jenner Institute who is the Principal Investigator on the trial, outlined the ambitions of the vaccine project, reporting that ‘We have designed our new vaccine to target the two species of virus that have caused nearly all Ebola virus outbreaks and deaths.’
Students who are interested in participating in this scientific advance should be aware that volunteers are still required. More details are available on the website, and the reminder that participants will contribute to the advancement of medicine is likely to be a strong incentive to cohorts of students who have faced disruption due to Covid-19 restrictions. One student taking part in the trial spoke about how she ‘cared a lot about medical advancements’ and also admires how the financial policies of the Jenner Institute allow ‘poorer countries’ to share the benefits. She also responded to potential doubts regarding the safety of the vaccine, citing the Institute’s safe and rational conduct around Covid-19 vaccines and saying that based on this, she was ‘confident they would not be rolling it out to human volunteers without testing it thoroughly.’
There are already signs of great potential in this project. The Ebola vaccine currently has the same vector, i.e. the same type of usage of genetic material for the study, as the one in the successful Covid-19 vaccine. Furthermore, the global potential of vaccines created at Oxford has been demonstrated across the last year. Originally produced at a laboratory in Headington, the Covid-19 vaccine has now been rolled out in 181 countries and though scientific studies can be unpredictable, this certainly places the Ebola vaccine project on strong foundations and reflects the truly global outreach of our university.