(Photo by Flickr user NIAID, used under a Creative Commons license)
Even as the Ebola crisis fades in and out of the headlines, the quest to develop a vaccine against the virus continues. On Monday, officials announced another role that Baltimore’s burgeoning biotech community is playing in the development of an antidote to inoculate against the deadly virus.
A new vaccine candidate that was manufactured at a facility near Johns Hopkins’ Bayview campus is set up to be used in Phase 1 clinical trials of an Ebola vaccine in England.
Emergent Biosolutions’ candidate will be tested as a booster to a vaccine being co-developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and GlaxoSmithKline that is undergoing clinical trials at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute.
Emergent’s candidate, known as an MVA vector, is designed to strengthen immune system response to the vaccine. Results published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine recommended the vector as one of two options that could be used to bolster the existing vaccine.
Emergent believes using the booster along with the existing vaccine candidate could lead to a “strong and fast development path,” said Adam Harvey, the Emergent executive vice president who heads up the company’s biodefense division.
The World Health Organization fast-tracked clinical testing on an Ebola vaccine as the crisis in West Africa mounted in late 2014. The outbreak continues to generate world headlines, as the death toll surpasses 10,000 people. New cases continue to be reported in Guinea and Sierra Leone over the last two weeks, and an American healthcare worker who contracted the virus was admitted to the NIH Clinical Center in Rockville late last week.
While researchers and biotech companies had previously developed the science behind an Ebola vaccine, government funding to bring the medicine to trials was scarce. The urgency of the recent crisis brought new funding, which led existing Baltimore biotech companies like Emergent and Profectus Biosciences to bring their vaccine candidates forward. Along with the money, new partnerships — like Monday’s agreement between Emergent, GSK, NIH and Oxford — have been introduced that are designed to navigate the complicated regulatory landscape. The Baltimore-based University of Maryland Medical School has another such partnership with GSK and NIH to run trials in Mali.
For now, Emergent has only manufactured enough of the vaccine for the clinical trials, which is known as a “proof-of-concept” run. But Harvey said the facility at 5901 Lombard Street could produce more.
“The scalable [manufacturing] process has the potential to meet the demand for multi-million doses in a few months,” the company said in a statement.
The company recently received a $2 million loan from the state to expand the space, which the company said will provide room for 158 jobs over the next four years. Harvey said the company sees Baltimore as one of the country’s “centers for innovation,” and said the infrastructure and access to talent in the area is a reason the Gaithersburg-based company continues to invest in the region.
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