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J&J and GSK step up Ebola vaccine race

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - 02:06

As the WHO opens its third emergency meeting on Ebola, Johnson and Johnson says it's speeding up work on an experimental vaccine against the disease - putting pressure on its main rivals in the vaccine race, GSK and NewLink Genetics, to do the same. Sara Hemrajani reports.

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In Freetown, Sierra Leone, volunteers and health workers visit crowded housing areas, in an effort to raise awareness about the Ebola epidemic. These door-to-door talks are the latest step by officials to stem the spread of the disease. Ebola has now claimed more than 4,500 lives - nearly all in West Africa. The rising death toll has prompted the World Health Organization to hold a third emergency meeting in Geneva. Up for discussion - travel rules, screening measures and the launch of large-scale vaccine trials. SOUNDBITE: Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director General for Health Systems and Innovation, saying (English): "These trials will incorporate the largest number of volunteers, and will be very important in terms of determining both the safety and the immunogenecity. And these data are absolutely crucial to allow decision-making on what dose-level should go in the efficacy-testing in Africa." As the spectre of Ebola looms large, the world's leading drugmakers are racing to develop their own vaccines. Johnson & Johnson is accelerating work on its experimental Ebola treatment and aims to produce a quarter-of-a-million doses by next May. Britain's GlaxoSmithKline says it expects to have a first batch of doses ready late this year. But some analysts are cautious about how beneficial this will be for GSK's bottom line. Jessica Ground is UK Fund Manager at Schroders. SOUNDBITE: (English) Jessica Ground, UK Fund Manager, Schroders, saying (English): "I think well these things like Ebola vaccines are great for headlines. We saw it with sort of Tamiflu a couple of years ago. It can be very hard for companies to capitalize in profit terms. I think Glaxo's got a very clear plan to be one of the leading players in vaccines, and I think it's important then with this virus they really demonstrate the leadership that they have in this product area." Despite the rivalry, the two pharmaceutical giants appear to be weighing up the option of collaborating to remove any potential bottlenecks. Johnson & Johnson's head of research said the two companies would support each other's work and could combine their vaccines if that made sense.

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J&J and GSK step up Ebola vaccine race

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 - 02:06