US$200 Million From Ebola Drug Makers

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Painstaking investigation by The Herald, has revealed that the companies behind the intended Ebola Vaccine trial in the Hohoe Municipality of the Volta Region, set a whopping sum of US$200 million for the experiment, and reports are that Ghanaian officials at the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), and other health technocrats, have collected huge cash to test-run the drugs on their compatriots for cheap mobile phones and a paltry GHC200.

The Ebola Vaccines, were manufactured by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, together with Crucell Holland B.V. under their parent company, Johnson & Johnson, and they have been carrying out the first-in-human clinical trials since January, this year.

Company sources at New Brunswick in the US city of New Jersey, are saying millions of dollars have exchanged hands between them and health officials of some African countries, including Ghana, to have the experiment done. Clinical trials, according to Ghanaian insiders, are goldmines pouring millions of United States dollars
into the pockets of many Ghanaian health officials.

Indeed, in October 2014, Johnson & Johnson, had announced a US$200 million financial commitment “..to accelerate and significantly expand production of an Ebola vaccine program in development at its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies.”

Johnson & Johnson said, it was “…seeking to share the financial risk of these vaccine and development clinical trial costs by pursuing governmental and non-governmental funding sources”.

In Ghana, names making the rounds as pushing the Ebola drug trials for the multibillion pharmaceutical companies are, those of Delese Mimi Darko, Head of Pharmacovigilance & Clinical Trials at FDA, Prof. Fred Newton Binka, Vice-Chancellor, University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS). The Ho-based University, has
an out campus in Hohoe, where Ebola Research Centre, has been set up.

One Dr. Margaret Kweku, a native of Hohoe, is also mentioned as one of the lead researchers, involved in the Ebola drug trials at Hohoe. The FDA, is currently testing the vaccine before giving the green light for the trial to take off. But other health officials, have already approached students of the Hohoe Midwifery
Training School to volunteer for the trial.

Other names, fiercely championing the experiment are, Pharmacist, Alex Dodoo, who claims to work with the World Health Organisation (WHO) as its Chairman of Global Vaccine Safety Initiative and ex-Health Minister, Joseph Yileh Chireh, now Chairman of the Health Committee in Parliament.

In January this year, Johnson & Johnson, announced the start of “Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Ebola Vaccine Regimen saying “company has produced more than 400,000 vaccine regimens for use in large-scale clinical trials by April 2015”.

It explained in a press statement issued by the company at New Brunswick in the US city of New Jersey on January 6, 2015 that the Phase 1, first-in-human clinical trial, is a preventive Ebola vaccine in development at its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies.

According to Johnson & Johnson, “the trial is being led by the Oxford Vaccine Group, part of the University Of Oxford Department Of Paediatrics. Recruitment in the trial is underway, and the first volunteers have received their initial vaccine dose. Enrollment is expected to be completed by the end of January”.

In that statement, Johnson & Johnson also announced that Janssen, in partnership with Bavarian Nordic A/S, has produced more than 400,000 regimens of the prime-boost vaccine for use in large-scale clinical trials by April 2015. A total of 2 million regimens will be available through the course of 2015, with the ability to quickly scale up to 5 million regimens, if required, over a 12- to 18-month period.

This increased projection is an update to Janssen’s previous goal of producing more than 1 million regimens by the end of 2015, with 250,000 regimens for broad application in clinical trials by May 2015.

“As a leader in the field of global health, we have a responsibility to act swiftly as Ebola continues to cause suffering among patients, families and health care workers in West Africa,” said Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson.

Modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to advise the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that to bring the epidemic under control, current projected demand for a preventive vaccine ranges from a minimum of 100,000 doses to protect frontline workers to a high-end of 12 million doses for large-scale adult vaccination in the three affected countries.

“Because every day counts, we are substantially accelerating the production of our vaccine regimen,” said Paul Stoffels, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer and Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson.

“Through the unprecedented collaboration among the global health community, our goal is to bring this vaccine to families and frontline health care professionals as fast as possible.”

The Phase 1, first-in-human study will evaluate the safety and tolerability of a prime-boost vaccine regimen, in which patients are first given a dose to prime the 2 immune system, and then a boost intended to enhance the immune response over time.

The immune response generated by the regimen will also be evaluated longer term. Different regimens combining the vaccine components or placebo will be studied in 72 healthy adult volunteers. Additional clinical studies are planned to begin in the United States later this month and soon after in Africa. Further details of the study are posted on clinicaltrials.gov.

“We’ve been working at an unprecedented pace together with our partners to significantly accelerate our efforts,” said Dr. Matthew Snape of the Oxford Vaccine Group and the study leader. “Initiating this study in the space of eight weeks represents a critical leap forward in being able to rapidly develop an Ebola prime-boost vaccine regimen, and these results will be vital to the design of future studies in broader populations.”

It disclosed that “In October 2014, Johnson & Johnson announced a commitment of up to $200 million to accelerate and significantly expand production of an Ebola vaccine program in development at its Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. The company is seeking to share the financial risk of these vaccine and development clinical trial costs by pursuing governmental and non-governmental funding sources”.

“The vaccine regimen, which was discovered in a collaborative research program with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), uses a prime-boost combination of two components that are based on AdVac® technology from Crucell Holland B.V., one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, and the MVA-BN® technology from Bavarian Nordic, a biotechnology company based in Denmark”.

The Crucell Holland B.V. program received direct funding and preclinical services from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Preclinical experiments of the prime-boost vaccine regimen conducted by the NIH demonstrated that when both vaccines were administered two months apart, complete protection from death due to Ebola was achieved against the Kikwit Zaire strain, which is similar to the virus that is the cause of the current outbreak in West Africa.

The research collaboration for a monovalent vaccine targeting the Zaire strain of the Ebola virus is part of an ongoing development program for a multivalent vaccine against all virus strains that cause disease in humans, including Ebola and Marburg viruses based on the Ad26 and Ad35 vectors.

The Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies continues to closely collaborate with WHO, NIAID and the European Commission, as well as other key stakeholders, governments, public health authorities, and non-governmental organizations on the clinical testing, development, production and distribution of the vaccine.

The effects of Ebola in West Africa continue to significantly strain the health care systems of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Johnson & Johnson disaster response efforts continue through its support of Direct Relief International, Partners in Health, AmeriCares, IntraHealth and Project HOPE.

The company also supports 3 the ongoing efforts by public health authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO, to mount a coordinated world response to address the immediate needs raised by the Ebola outbreak.

As part of its commitment to support nurses, Johnson & Johnson gave an educational grant to Nurse.com to make available to every nurse in the U.S. continuing education resources about Ebola.

About The Phase 1, First-in-Human Study of Heterologous Prime-Boost Ebola Vaccine Regimens will see the volunteers in this study enrolled into four groups and randomized to receive either active vaccine or placebo.

Those getting an active dose, will receive a prime vaccination in one of four regimens according to randomization on day one and then receive the boost component either one or two months apart, depending on which group they are in.

Analyses of these regimens, will inform decisions for future studies, such as the order in which the two components, should be given and how closely together they can be given to ensure the optimal protection and sustainability.
Further details of the study are posted on clinicaltrials.gov.

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