The EU’s IMI (Innovative Medicines Initiative) announced a series of major grants totaling €200 million supporting its Ebola+ programme

European Union [to 17 January 2015]

The EU’s IMI (Innovative Medicines Initiative) announced a series of major grants totaling €200 million supporting its Ebola+ programme
15 January 2015
The IMI Ebola+ programme was launched in response to the Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak that started in western Africa in 2014. The comprehensive programme contributes to efforts to tackle a wide range of challenges in Ebola research, including vaccines development, clinical trials, storage and transport, as well as diagnostics and treatments. It is hoped that the programme, which complements work being carried out with the support of other funding bodies, will help to make a difference in the current and future outbreaks. In addition to Ebola, the programme will also address related diseases, such as Marburg.

Eight projects, with a total budget of over €200 million, have been selected for funding under the first Ebola+ Call for proposals:

VSV-EBOVAC will build on existing work to advance the development of the Ebola vaccine candidate VSV-ZEBOV (‘vesicular stomatitis virus-vectored Zaire Ebola vaccine’). The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified VSV-ZEBOV as one of the most promising Ebola vaccine candidates, and clinical trials are already underway in Europe and Africa. The VSV-EBOVAC project will use cutting-edge technologies to carry out in-depth analyses of samples taken from clinical trial participants before and after vaccination. This will allow them to gather vital information on both the strength of the immune responses triggered by the vaccine and vaccine safety.

:: EBOVAC 1 and 2
Between them, the two EBOVAC projects will assess, through clinical trials in Europe and Africa, the safety and tolerability of the ‘prime-boost’ Ebola vaccine regimen (Ad26.ZEBOV and MVA-BN-Filo) in development at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. In a prime-boost vaccine regimen, patients are first given a dose to prime the immune system, and then a boost dose which is intended to enhance the immune response over time.

Phase I trials will be carried out by the EBOVAC1 project. These trials will gather preliminary information on the safety and tolerability of the vaccine regimen. The immune response generated by the regimen will also be evaluated longer term.

Subject to review of the preliminary Phase I data, the Phase II and III trials, will be carried out in parallel by the EBOVAC2 and EBOVAC1 projects respectively to speed up the clinical development of the vaccine regimen. In these trials, larger groups of people will receive the vaccine regimen, allowing the projects to gather further information on the regimen’s safety and immunogenicity, including in specific groups such as children and the elderly, and to assess its efficacy against Ebola virus.

:: Vaccine manufacture capability
Ebola vaccines can only be manufactured in facilities with an appropriate biosafety rating. Relatively few manufacturers have the biosafety rating required for the manufacture of Ebola vaccines, and this is slowing down the production of vaccine candidates.

The focus of the EBOMAN project is on accelerating the development and manufacturing of a ‘prime-boost’ Ebola vaccine regimen (Ad26.ZEBOV and MVA-BN-Filo) in development at the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. In the short term, this will ensure the delivery of sufficient quantities of the Ad26.ZEBOV and MVA-BN-Filo vaccine regimen to support the EBOVAC projects to perform the clinical trials. In parallel, this project will create additional vaccine production capacity to allow for the rapid preparation of large quantities of vaccines.

:: Deployment of and compliance with vaccination regimens
For a vaccine to have a real impact on an outbreak, high levels of vaccination coverage are essential. In addition, for lasting protection, two doses of the vaccine may be needed. However, the stigma surrounding Ebola, coupled with a suspicion of vaccines in general, could deter many people from getting vaccinated. Strong communication campaigns are therefore needed to address these challenges.

The EBODAC project will develop a communication strategy and tools to promote the acceptance and uptake of new Ebola vaccines. One of the project’s most important products will be a platform, based on mobile technology, dedicated to Ebola vaccines. As well as providing local communities with information on Ebola and vaccines, the platform will send reminders to people receiving the ‘prime boost’ vaccine to return to get their second ‘booster’ dose and facilitate the tracking of vaccination coverage. EBODAC will also set up local training programmes to make sure the communication strategy, and its tools, will be ready for deployment in the local setting.

:: Rapid diagnostic tests
There is an urgent need for fast, reliable tests to determine if someone is infected with Ebola or not. Three projects will pave the way for rapid diagnostic tests capable of delivering reliable results at the point of care in as little as 15 minutes.

:: Mofina
The Mofina project will develop a new diagnostic test that will deliver results in under 45 minutes on whether the patient has Ebola or a related disease such as Marburg virus. Crucially, the device is designed to work well in sites where high-end laboratory infrastructures are simply not available, while also protecting users from infection. The project will draw on two existing technologies: a conventional Ebola virus test, and a point-of-care molecular diagnostics platform. After testing a prototype of the system, the project partners will validate it in the field.

The FILODIAG project aims to deliver an ultra-fast, accurate diagnostic instrument that will test for Ebola in under 15 minutes. Such a system could be used in both healthcare settings and at critical infrastructures like airports. Current tests for Ebola virus take a long time because samples must be heated and then cooled in each of the many processing cycles. This project will replace the heating/cooling steps with a technology based on laser-heated nanoparticles. Early tests of this technology have worked well. The project will add a step to concentrate the virus and refine and test the system before evaluating it in the field.

:: EbolaMoDRAD
The EbolaMoDRAD project aims to develop and validate in the field a rapid diagnostic tool that will be both simple and safe to use in low resource settings by people who may not have specialist training. At the same time, the project will implement a large-scale capacity building programme in West Africa with a strong focus on diagnostics, biosafety, and outbreak management. Finally, it will ensure its results are communicated widely, especially to public health bodies, charities, outbreak management teams, and local hospitals.
Note: The Grant Agreements for some projects are still being finalised. Final information on all selected projects, including full budget details, will be published here once the Grant Agreements have been signed.

:: Future plans
Further Calls for proposals under the Ebola+ programme are planned. These could address issues such as the development of a vaccine that offers broad protection against both Ebola and other, related viruses such as Marburg; the development of new treatments for Ebola; new vaccines that do not require extreme temperatures; and the generation of new diagnostic tests.