Ottawa-area residents with HIV are being asked to put out their arms to help with crucial research into the Canadian-developed Ebola vaccine.
Already, many have said they are willing to be vaccinated for the clinical trial that is set to begin later this year, said Dr. Curtis Cooper, a researcher with The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and director of the regional hepatitis program at the hospital.
Ottawa is one of two Canadian sites for the international vaccine trial that is looking for information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in building a protective immune response among HIV-positive people. Montreal is the other Canadian site. Research will also take place in Senegal and Burkina Faso, said Cooper.
The vaccine, known as VSV-EBOV, was developed at the National Microbial Laboratories in Winnipeg. A 2015 high-profile clinical trial in Guinea, which was the epicentre of the worst Ebola outbreak in history, concluded that the vaccine had 100-per-cent efficacy in some people. A recent review suggests its actual effectiveness is likely lower than that. The vaccine, which is still experimental, was later used in West Africa to quell smaller outbreaks of Ebola after West African countries were originally declared Ebola-free.
If it is licensed, the vaccine would become the world’s first against the Ebola virus.
The HIV trial is a crucial part of testing the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety on vulnerable populations, such as people living with HIV, which is common in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“These populations can be most at-risk during outbreaks, because of their compromised immune systems,” said Dr. Cecile Tremblay, who developed the protocol for the study.
Cooper, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Ottawa and The Ottawa Hospital, said he has not started to recruit subjects for the study yet, but already people are interested and keen to enrol.
“Most want to do it so they can contribute to something they see as being important. Some come from areas that were involved with Ebola, and that makes it a little more important to them.”
There is already good data that indicates the vaccine works and that it is safe, said Cooper, “but we don’t have data with people living with HIV.”
The trial will assess volunteers for symptoms related to the vaccine and measure their immune systems looking for antibodies.
“What we are going to be able to do is contribute data to say the vaccine can be safely used and immune response is good.”
The clinical trial will not be able to assess whether the vaccine would protect the subjects against Ebola because the trial volunteers will not be exposed.
Cooper said development of the vaccine at the National Microbial Laboratories is a “fantastic indicator of the quality of scientific research in our country. I think it is a strong indicator that scientists in Canada are doing good work, and we need to encourage investment in our research activities.
“If we invest properly, we can really make a big impact on the world stage.”
The study is expected to include 200 people in Canada and Africa, up to 50 of them in Ottawa.
The trial will run for about two years. It is led by the Canadian Immunization Research Network, in partnership with the vaccine manufacturer Merck.
Author: ELIZABETH PAYNE