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Former nurse first to receive new ebola vaccine in trial

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A former nurse has become the first healthy UK volunteer to receive a potential new ebola vaccine in a safety trial carried out by the University of Oxford.

Ruth Atkins, currently a communications and engagement manager at the NHS Central Southern Commissioning Support Unit, was injected with the vaccine in her upper arm yesterday.

The 48-year-old is the first of 60 volunteers to participate in the trial.

“I volunteered because the situation in West Africa is so tragic and I thought being part of this vaccination process was something small I could do to hopefully make a huge impact”

Ruth Atkins

Ms Atkins, who has previously worked as a nurse in the NHS, said she volunteered because the situation in West Africa was “so tragic” and taking part in the trial “was something small I could do to hopefully make a huge impact”.

Speaking an hour after receiving the vaccination, she said: “I feel absolutely fine, it felt no different to being vaccinated before going on holiday.”

The candidate ebola vaccine has been co-developed by the US National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline. It is designed to protect against the Zaire species of Ebola, which is the one circulating in West Africa.

Ebola virus

Ebola virus

It uses a single ebola virus protein to generate an immune response. As it does not contain infectious virus material, it cannot cause a person who is vaccinated to become infected with ebola.

The UK trial is part of a series of safety trials of potential ebola vaccines. They have been fast-tracked in response to the current outbreak, which has killed more than 2,250 people in West Africa.

The UK trial is being led by Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Oxford University’s Jenner Institute. He said developing new drugs and vaccines against ebola was an “urgent priority”.

University of Oxford

Adrian Hill

“It is tremendous that so many people have worked hard to make this trial happen in short time, and I am enormously grateful to those volunteers who have come forward to take part,” he added.

“These are initial safety trials of the vaccine and it will be some time before we know whether the vaccine could protect people against Ebola,” said Professor Hill.

“But we are optimistic that the candidate vaccine may prove useful against the disease in the future.”

The UK trial is being funded under a £2.8m grant from the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Department for International Development.

The consortium’s funding also enables GSK to begin manufacturing up to 10,000 doses of the vaccine, so stocks could be made available immediately if the trials prove successful.

It is hoped that the phase one trials might be finished by the end of 2014.

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