J&J's Experimental Ebola Vaccine to be Deployed in the Congo to Help Stem Outbreak


While the number of new Ebola cases in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) declines, the situation has remained troublesome as the outbreak could quickly ramp back up the World Health Organization said earlier this month. To help with the situation, Johnson & Johnson is donating 500,000 vaccine regimens of its experimental treatment aimed at the Zaire strain of the virus, the cause of the current outbreak.

This morning, J&J announced it had committed the doses of the vaccine under development from subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical in support of a new clinical study in the African nation. In the Congo, there have been more than 3,000 cases and 2,000 related deaths to the Ebola virus outbreak.

Alex Gorsky, J&J’s chairman and chief executive officer, called Ebola one of the most urgent challenges facing the global healthcare community.

“The fact that we're in a position to help the people of the DRC protect their communities from such a serious threat—just a few years after we pledged to accelerate vaccine development efforts—is a testament to both the ingenuity of Janssen's scientists, and the power of close collaboration between partners committed to working for the greater good of all,” Gorsky said in a statement.

In July, the WHO declared the Ebola outbreak in the DRC a public health emergency of international concern. In that announcement, the World Health Organization called for “optimal vaccine strategies” to curtail the outbreak, which prompted J&J’s response. The vaccine will be provided to individuals in the DRC who live in areas close to the current outbreak zone, with the goal of preventing the further geographic spread of the virus.

Janssen’s Ebola vaccine, which is being developed with Bavarian Nordic, consists of two doses leveraging different vaccines. The regimen uses a viral vector strategy in which viruses, adenovirus serotype 26 (Ad26) and Modified Vaccinia Ankara (MVA), are genetically modified so that they cannot replicate in human cells. This safely induces the production of Ebola virus proteins in order to trigger an immune response, the company said. Janssen accelerated development of the vaccine in response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014 to 2016.

The DRC Minister of Public Health Eteni Longondo announced his country's decision to introduce Janssen's investigational vaccine alongside other tools as part of an expanded public health response to fight the Ebola outbreak, J&J said this morning. Additionally, the country plans to begin using the vaccine in the border city of Goma, which is a trading hub for the DRC and neighboring Rwanda, the company added.

The DRC isn’t the first African country to authorize the use of experimental Ebola vaccines to stem spread of the virus. In June, authorities in Uganda approved the use of three experimental viruses, Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s ZMapp, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ REGN-EB3, and Gilead Sciences’ Remdesivir. In July, trial data showed the efficacy of both ZMapp and Remdesivir. Both successfully inhibited the growth of the virus in human cells in laboratory studies. In August, Regeneron’s PALM trial studying REGN-EB3 was stopped early after it showed superiority to ZMapp.

“No single entity can solve this outbreak which has continued for more than a year,” Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson said in a statement. “The global health community has come together in support of this initiative using Janssen's investigational Ebola vaccine regimen to help prevent its further spread. This collaboration is essential, and a great demonstration of how the public and private sectors can work together to help tackle a public health crisis.”

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