Race to Make Ebola Vaccine Pits Crazy Timeline Against Maddening Obstacles
Monday, November 17, 2014
Deep inside a drug manufacturing plant in an industrial district of suburban Rome, vials of Ebola vaccine sit in freezers, chilled to minus 70 degrees Celsius with the help of liquid nitrogen. Much warmer — say, the temperature in outdated kerosene-fueled fridges in some West African villages — risks destroying the drug.
Refrigeration is just one of the myriad challenges for GlaxoSmithKline Plc and other companies racing to create vaccines to fight Ebola. They’re facing issues ranging from packaging the drug in tiny glass vials for distribution, to assembling fleets of trucks and motorbikes to transport it along potholed roads, to monitoring subjects in a Swiss lakeside city to test the vaccine ultimately destined for villages in the African jungle.
Companies, regulators, and non-profit groups worldwide are cooperating as never before to create a workable vaccine and announcing new timelines almost weekly. Typically, getting a vaccine from the lab bench to clinics where it’s injected into patients’ arms takes up to a decade. With Ebola, targeted immunization could start in the second half of next year, and field tests in health workers fighting the epidemic are likely by January — unprecedented speed for such research.
- Health Care