Two experimental Ebola vaccines won’t be a cure-all for the Ebola epidemic, but testing and development are being fast-tracked to try to produce millions of doses to use in 2015, the World Health Organization says.

The two leading vaccine candidates are one invented by scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed to the American company NewLink Genetics, and another developed  by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

WHO Ebola Marie-Paule Kieny

Marie-Paule Kieny of the World Health Organization says a few hundred thousand doses of experimental Ebola vaccine could be available before the first half of 2015. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

"The vaccine is not the magic bullet. But when ready, they may be a good part of the effort to turn the tide of this epidemic," Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny of the World Health Organization, told a news conference on Friday in Geneva.
Health officials and vaccine manufacturers don’t yet know if both vaccines will be ready to start testing in efficacy trials to see if they safely work to protect people.

Kieny said plans to roll out the vaccine were changing "week to week" as officials move to contain the outbreak that has killed at least 4,877 people, mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The actual number of cases is believed to be higher.

"The message we heard from WHO that the people fighting the epidemic will be among the first to test Ebola vaccines and treatments is exactly the one we needed to hear," Dr. Bertrand Draguez, medical director for Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement. "This needs to be followed by a massive roll-out of vaccines to the general population once their efficacy is proven."

The effort faces many challenges, such as finding enough manufacturing capacity to fill vials and logistical hurdles of safely kicking vaccine production into high gear while trying to stamp out an Ebola outbreak in the most affected countries.

Cda Ebola Vaccine 20141015

The Canadian-made experimental Ebola vaccine rVSV-EBOV is one of two frontrunners that has started early clinical trial safety tests in humans. (Col. Shon Remich/Walter Reed Army Institute of Research/Canadian Press)

Earlier this week, Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer for Johnson & Johnson, said the industry is working together “with the governments to take down the barriers and increase the speed with which we can develop."

The other five vaccine candidates being considered are from J&J, Profectus, Inovio, Protein Sciences and a Russian one, Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for WHO said in an email. Kieny said one Russian vaccine may be ready to go into clinical trials soon.

At yesterday’s meeting of government representatives, vaccine manufacturers and funding agencies, there was a discussion about financing, but Kieny said there was an understanding that money would not be an issue. There were commitments from Doctors Without Borders and interest from the World Bank and GAVI, the main organization that finances vaccines in developing countries, she said.

The first 250 of 800 vials of Canada's experimental Ebola vaccine arrived in Geneva on Wednesday.

With files from Reuters, The Associated Press and The Canadian Press