Honors Gallery

Ebola Vaccine Development from Basic Research to the Clinic: Partnering for Public Health

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2017

Award Type: National

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Researchers at the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH), have been developing and testing Ebolavirus vaccine candidates for over 15 years. 

Beginning in 2008, the VRC’s Dr. Nancy Sullivan worked with Dr. Alfredo Nicosia at Okairos, a Switzerland-based biotechnology company, under a Research Collaboration Agreement to develop novel vaccine candidates.  This collaboration brought together Dr. Sullivan’s expertise in Ebolavirus protein antigen design and Okairos scientists’ experience with the Okairos proprietary chimpanzee adenovirus vectors. 

As a result of this collaboration, in 2010 VRC and Okairos developed Ebolavirus vaccine candidates that use chimpanzee adenoviruses to deliver isolated, modified Ebolavirus proteins to the subject being vaccinated.  The subject’s immune system recognizes the Ebolavirus proteins, which are non-infectious, as a foreign material and mounts an immune response to them. 

Part of this immune response creates a “memory” of the Ebolavirus protein so the immune system can efficiently eliminate such proteins if they are found in the body in the future. The VRC continued development of these Ebolavirus vaccine candidates and planned to test their safety and efficacy in Phase I clinical trials in early 2015.

As the 2014 Ebolavirus disease outbreak in western Africa grew into a global health crisis, academic scientists, small biotechnology firms and pharmaceutical companies redirected resources toward developing vaccines and therapeutics to combat the deadly virus. 

In late summer 2014, VRC accelerated its plans for these Ebolavirus vaccine clinical trials and joined efforts with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which had acquired Okairos in 2013 and the rights to the chimpanzee viral vectors, to make additional vaccine materials for more clinical trials. 

This cooperative effort among NIAID; its contractor, Leidos Biomedical; and GSK to hasten efforts toward a safe and effective Ebolavirus vaccine during a public health crisis is an exemplary case of successful federal technology transfer.  The public-private partnership began with a collaborative research project and culminated, seven years later, in clinical trials of the resulting Ebolavirus vaccine. These trials began in September 2014, and GSK continues to develop the vaccine candidates under a license agreement with NIAID in order to prepare for future outbreaks of Ebolavirus disease.

Contact: Dr. Nancy Sullivan, (301) 435-7853, [email protected]