Ebola Virus: Development of Vaccines and Therapeutic Drugs

The 2014 outbreak of Ebola virus highlights the urgent need to develop an effective vaccine to prevent the spread of this deadly virus, and effective therapies to improve survival rates among those infected with Ebola.

Breaking News

  • The UCSC Ebola Genome Portal  has launched. This centralized hub for resources on Ebola virus includes links to the Ebola Genome Browser, as well as an overview of Ebola biology and current efforts to develop vaccines and treatments.
  • Tekmira's siRNA-based investigational drug TKM-Ebola has been authorized by the FDA under expanded access protocols to be administered to patients diagnosed with or suspected to be infected with Ebola.
  • TKM-Ebola may enter expedited clinical trials in West Africa. An International consortium has received £3.2 Million from the Wellcome Trust to establish Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) treatment centers that will administer clinical trials using one or more investigational therapeutics under consideration, among which RNAi has been prioritized.

Ongoing Ebola Drug Development Efforts

  • Newlink Genetics Corp is poised to begin the first clinical trials of an Ebola vaccine an attenuated live virus, vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a common livestock pathogen, into which an Ebola viral coat protein has been introduced. Read More
  • Researchers at the NIH's Vaccine Research Center (VRC) have designed a DNA Vaccine Against Ebola in collaboration with Okairos, which was recently acquired by GSK. Clinical trials are expected to begin in Fall 2014. Read More
  • Several investigational drugs have received FDA permission to be administered to patients infected with Ebola virus, including the monoclonal antibody cocktail ZMapp and the RNAi-based therapeutic TKM-EbolaRead More

How Can Gene Synthesis Accelerate the Development of An Ebola Vaccine

Gene Synthesis is a critical technology used to accelerate vaccine development as well as basic virology and immunology research. Gene synthesis is contributing to numerous approaches to controlling Ebola and other viral diseases.

  • A vaccine currently poised to begin clinical trials as soon as 2014 is a DNA vaccine, containing synthetic genes encoded by the Ebola virus delivered in a non-replicating adenoviral vector.  DNA vaccines stimulate a robust immune response to high-level expression of specific antigenic proteins delivered in vector optimized for safety. Dozens of studies cite GenScript's gene synthesis services for codon-optimized genes for DNA vaccine research and development. Browse or Search DNA Vaccine Studies »
  • DNA vaccine efficacy can be enhanced through co-delivery of synthetic genes encoding adjuvants such as cytokines, chemokines, or synthetic genes encoding Cellular Transcription Factors (Vaccines 2014).

Ebola Vaccines (Preventative Drugs) Currently in Development

  • In November 2014, the New England Journal of Medicine released a preliminary report on a clinical trial for a chimpanzee adenovirus type 3 vector Ebola-vaccine (cAd3-EBO). The vaccine encodes a glycoprotein for both the Zaire and Sudan species. Researchers showed dose-dependent immune responses to the vaccine, and announced that clinical trials will continue to determined the efficacy of this preventative vaccine. Learn More
  • Researchers are developing a vaccine for Ebola that contains an attenuated live virus, vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a common livestock pathogen, into which an Ebola viral coat protein has been introduced. With funding from the US DOD's Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Newlink Genetics Corp has licensed an Ebola vaccine candidate developed by researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada and are poised to begin human clinical trials before the end of the month of August 2014. Newlink is working with manufacturers to scale up production of the drug so that tends of thousands of doses could be available within a few months.
  • Researchers from the Vaccine Research Center (VRC), part of NIH's National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have designed a DNA vaccine for Ebola in collaboration with the biotech company Okairos, which was recently acquired by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).  This vaccine candidate is composed of a non-replicating chimpanzee adenovirus vector vaccine into which two Ebola genes have been inserted. Human trials could begin as soon as Fall 2014 with approval coming as soon as 2015, although GSK declines to offer a target date, stating that this drug is in early stages of development and pending FDA review or preclinical data. DNA vaccines hold promise to be safer and more effective at stimulating an immune response to specific viral antigens compared to traditional vaccines containing purified peptide antigens or attenuated or live virus. However, no DNA vaccines are currently approved for use in humans.  Learn More

Therapeutic Approaches in Development for Ebola

  • Antibody engineering: The Monoclonal Antibodies in ZMapp were first isolated from mice that were exposed to Ebola virus (EBOV). The antibodies were then Humanized to make them suitable for clinical use. ZMapp, an experimental drug composed of three humanized monoclonal antibodies, has been administered to two Americans and one European diagnosed with Ebola since July 31, 2014. Monoclonal antibodies are increasingly used for therapeutic purposes for viral diseases, immuno-oncology, and other medical applications, and gene synthesis can accelerate the process of Therapeutic Antibody Development. The drug ZMapp is being developed by Mapp Pharmaceuticals, and is produced through protein production in fast-growing tobacco plants. 
  • siRNA delivered through lipid nanoparticles: Tekmira is developing the RNAi-based therapeutic TKM-Ebola to combat the Zaire species of Ebola virus (ZEBOV). Preclinical studies were published in The Lancet in 2010. Read The Full Publication »  Lipid-encapsulated siRNA delivery has also shown promise for treating Marburg Virus Infection (J. Infect. Dis. 2013)
  • Small molecule drugs with broad-spectrum antiviral properties: BioCryst is developing the compound BCX4430, a novel synthetic adenosine analogue, as an antiviral drug to target Ebola and numerous other infections viruses. It is expected to begin Phase 1 testing later this year. Preclinical results were published in Nature in April 2014. Read The Full Publication »
  • There is currently no approved preventative or curative treatment for Ebola virus infection, which is deadly in 60-90% of all diagnosed patients. Current guidelines for best practices recommend only supportive care to control symptoms of hemorrhagic fever typically observed in patients infected with Ebola virus.

Recent Research Reports on Ebola



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