Canada will donate doses of its experimental Ebola vaccine to the international community and the World Health Organization will help determine who receives it, a federal official says.
The Canadian government expects to donate 800 to 1,000 doses of the experimental Ebola vaccine developed at the National Microbiology Laboratory.
On Wednesday, Heritage Minister Shelly Glover, who represents Winnipeg, where the National Microbiology Laboratory is located, said the WHO, advised by experts, will decide how to strike a balance on who gets the vaccine Canada offers to the international community.
"This is a decision that will be made by experts and not politicians," Glover told a news conference.
It takes about two to three months to make a batch of the experimental vaccine, said Dr. Gary Kobinger, who heads the special pathogens research program at the Winnipeg laboratory. The current batch was produced in Germany, he said.
The number of doses available depends on whether the vaccine is used in its traditional form to prevent infection, or as a treatment, said Kobinger. Studies in animals suggest Canada's experimental vaccine can also be used to treat Ebola infection.
There's currently about 1,500 doses of the vaccine, Kobinger estimated.
Dr. Gregory Taylor, deputy head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, said the agency has been advised that it makes the most sense to give the vaccine to health-care workers in Africa. They are among the most vulnerable because of their close contact with Ebola patients.
Ebola has killed more than 1,000 people in the current West African outbreak that has also hit Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria. Many of the dead are health workers, who are often working with inadequate supplies and protection.
NewLink Genetics Corp, which licensed the Ebola vaccine developed by Canadian government scientists, has enough doses on hand to launch the first human safety trial of an Ebola vaccine this summer, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
The company has also lined up contract manufacturing companies to be able to produce tens of thousands of doses of the vaccine within "the next month or two," Dr. Charles Link said in an interview with Reuters.
Tekmira 'evaluating options'
Meanwhile, Vancouver-based Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp. said Wednesday the company is in discussions about making its experimental Ebola drug available to infected patients, but says there is no guarantee the treatment can be used to help quell the outbreak in West Africa.
On a conference call with stock analysts on Wednesday, Tekmira CEO Mark Murray expressed "deep concern" over the crisis, but struck a cautious tone when asked what role the Vancouver-based company's drug, called TKM-Ebola, could play in helping tackle it.
"Given the severity of the situation we are carefully evaluating options for use of our investigational drug within accepted clinical and regulatory protocols," Murray said.
That includes talks with government and non-government groups in various countries, including the World Health Organization, but Murray declined to give details on what sorts of scenarios are under discussion.
On Tuesday, the WHO said it would be ethical for unproven treatments to be used for the current Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 1,000 people. The Canadian government has said it would redirect hundreds of doses of an experimental vaccine to the outbreak response.
Tekmira is in the middle of a Phase 1 clinical study of TKM-Ebola, which involves about 28 human subjects.
On the call, Murray said Tekmira has an inventory of the drug for the trial and is exploring what it would take to manufacture more. Production would likely take a matter of months, he said.
Another top doctor dies of Ebola
Also on Wednesday, a leading physician in Sierra Leone's fight against Ebola has died from the disease, an official said.
WHO spokeswoman Nyka Alexander said the UN health agency's priority is to make sure those who are sick get treatment, family members who are exposed also get treatment and people are buried in a way that doesn’t sicken others
"These treatments just aren't widely available at this point," WHO spokeswoman Nyka Alexander said in an interview with CBC News Network.
Guinea is considering asking for access to the vaccine, according to Communications Minister Al Houssein Makanera Kake.
Unlike the use of ZMapp, which is being given to only a handful of people and is unlikely to yield significant information about the drug's effectiveness, the vaccine could be tested in a small, but more rigorous field trial, said David Heymann, who headed the WHO's response to SARS and is now professor at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.