Conquering Ebola:  How They Did It

By Shlomo Maital


  As usual, the deaths and suffering from Ebola got far more media attention than the team of brave and creative people who have conquered it. (Global New York Times, Aug. 1-2, 2015, p. 6)

  It started in Canada.  Researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada created an experimental vaccine (yup – that’s right,  a government agency!).  They took a piece of the virus’s covering and combined it with an animal virus (vesicular stomatitis virus), to set off an immune reaction against Ebola. I can only imagine the risks involved in working with such a virulent and often-fatal virus, in a lab. 

   A private biopharm company, NewLink Genetics, based in Ames Iowa, licensed the breakthrough vaccine, and last November, Merck, Big Pharma, did too. 

   The clinical trial was crucial.  It was led by the WHO,  Guinean Health Ministry, Doctors Without Borders, Epicentre Research and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

    Among the clinical trial innovations: a beer-keg-shaped storage device, the Arkteck, that kept the vaccines at minus 80 degrees without electricity, so that they could be transported.   The keg was invented by Global Good, a collaboration between an investment company Intellectual Ventures and Bill & Melinda Gates’ Foundation.

     None of those vaccinated in the trial,  about 4,000 people, contracted the disease, even when exposed to it.  The main use will be to vaccinate medical workers exposed to Ebola, rather than huge populations.

     What do we learn from this?  Simple.   To tackle a really hard problem, you need to put together global collaborations – governments, NGO’s, companies big and small, volunteers, African governments,   and they need to work together seamlessly, each contributing his or her own creativity and energy.  In the end, courageous lab workers did the job, but it took the whole ‘village’ to save a child, or many many of them. 

    The whole ebola virus vaccine eco-system deserves a Nobel.