OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — The Canadian government said it will start shipping its experimental Ebola vaccine to the World Health Organization on Monday for possible use in the West African countries hardest hit by the outbreak.
The government said in a news release Saturday that the Public Health Agency of Canada is supplying the vaccine to the U.N. agency in Geneva. The WHO is the international coordinating body for battling the Ebola outbreak which has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa.
The news release said Canada will send 800 vials of its experimental vaccine in three separate shipments.
The WHO will consult with its partners, including health authorities from the affected countries, to determine how best to distribute and use the vaccine, taking into consideration concerns about using an experimental vaccine on people.
Human testing of the Canadian-made vaccine began last week in the U.S. Twenty vials of the vaccine were sent to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland for testing on about 40 healthy volunteers, Canada's Health Minister Rona Ambrose said last Monday.
The Phase 1 trial will determine if the vaccine known as VSV-EBOV is safe for human use. It will also determine the proper dosage level and test for possible side effects.
Studies have shown the vaccine works in primates both to prevent infection when given before exposure and to increase survival chances when given quickly after exposure.
Canadian health officials said results from the human trial are expected by December.
"This vaccine, the product of many years of scientific research and innovation, could be an important tool in curbing the outbreak," said Dr. Gregory Taylor of Canada's Public Health Agency. "We will continue to work closely with the WHO to address some of the ethical and logistical issues around using this experimental vaccine in the fight against Ebola."
Taylor said last week that the next step in testing the vaccine would be to test it in a larger human sample — most likely health-care workers handling Ebola cases on the ground in West Africa.
A small U.S. company called NewLink Genetics, of Ames, Iowa, holds the license for the vaccine and is arranging the trials on human subjects. NewLink said in early October that it anticipated that clinical trial would soon be under way in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland and in an unnamed Africa country, which is not battling Ebola.