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Is an Ebola vaccine on the horizon?

For the first time, an experimental vaccine taken by 20 healthy adults is successfully and safely stimulating an immunity against Ebola. Judy Woodruff talks to Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health on how the vaccine was developed and when we might see protection from the disease.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to promising news in the search for an Ebola vaccine.

    Researchers from the National Institutes of Health and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline report that an experimental vaccine has been shown to be safe and,for the first time, to be successful in stimulating an immune response against Ebola.

    The trial involved 20 healthy volunteers in Bethesda, Maryland. It was conducted by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH.

    And I spoke to its director, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a little earlier today.

    Welcome, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

    DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, National Institutes of Health: Thank you. Good to be with you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    On this Thanksgiving Day, we appreciate your coming in.

    So, only 20 people involved in this study. It's only been under way a little more than two months. How is it possible to know already that it may be successful?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well, when we say successful, we mean that we have answered successfully that two questions that a phase one early trial like this asks. A, is it safe? And, B, does it induce the kind of response in volunteers that you would predict would be protective?

    And the answer to both of those was yes. It was safe in the sense of no really prohibitive adverse events among the 20 volunteers, and when we measured the response in them, the response was commensurate with the good responses that we saw in the animal model that actually protected the animal from challenge.

    The proof of the pudding now is to find out if, in reality, it does protect. But the first phases are now successful. And that's where we are right now.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, we know there's no Ebola in this, so it's not dangerous in that regard.

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Just in a nutshell, in layman's term, how does it work?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well, what happens is that you take the gene of one particular protein of Ebola, this thing called a glycoprotein, and you stick that into the vaccine and give it to a person.

    And the body makes a response against this protein. So the whole Ebola virus is not in the vaccine, so there's no chance of there any danger of the vaccine giving anybody Ebola. What you want it to do is to make a good response against a part of Ebola that would then protect you if you were exposed to Ebola.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, I read that this involves a much — a much — a high dose of Ebola.

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So — of the Ebola vaccine.

    How much does that complicate what you're trying to do?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Not a lot, really.

    What it means is that the company will have to make more for the number of people that you will ultimately vaccinate. For example, the next phase, which is planned to start some time in mid-January in West Africa to answer the bottom-line question, does it work, that will involve thousands of people, so you're going to have to make a lot of product.

    It would be nice if you had a very low dose that worked, but you don't always get that advantage, so you will have to go with the dose that you know works.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The other — the other question I have is, I also read that it may not protect for a — it doesn't protect indefinitely.

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It may not protect for very long. So, what do we know about that?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    OK.

    So, the main, immediate goal now is to see if we can have an impact on the epidemic. So the amount of time that you need, the duration of the protection is OK for the immediate. If you want it to be a longer-range, we're already planning to test what we call a booster, so that you give them the first prime, protect them for a period of time.

    If you want more long-range protection, then you come in with a booster. What we're looking at now is just that prime, as we call it, which would give protection enough to get us through several months of have the epidemic.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But that makes it more complicated.

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    It does. It makes it more complicated.

    But when you're dealing with an emergent situation where you really have to move quickly, you want to get the product out there as quickly as you can.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, you referred to the next step being a larger trial, thousands of people in West Africa. How quickly can you move to that step?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    We're planning right now. We have been to Liberia a few times to look at the infrastructure there.

    Hopefully, if things go well, by mid-January, we will be able to get the first doses into people for the trial.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we know, Dr. Fauci, that there are a number of other trials under way around the world, I guess, in West Africa and Canada.

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do those trials continue when you find that one like this is successful?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Oh, absolutely.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How does that work?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Well, in fact, when we start the trial in West Africa, we're not only going to test this particular vaccine that we're talking about today. But there is another vaccine that is made by a company called NewLink and was actually produced together with the Public Health Agency of Canada.

    And we're going to test that vaccine at the same time as we're testing the one that we're talking about now. So, this isn't the only product. There are more than one.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, what is the — finally, what is the earliest time that a successful vaccine, do you think, could be available?

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    I think, if things go really well, and the infection rate is high — because the infection rate, the quicker you get the answer — that I think the earliest we will know is some time in mid-summer of 2015.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, months away.

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Months away. It's not a quick process.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right, Dr. Anthony Fauci, we thank you.

  • DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

    Quite welcome.

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